Error-ridden Aryna Sabalenka survives last eight scare in Madrid
At the Madrid Open on Tuesday, second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka defeated Mayar Sherif 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 in exactly two hours to advance to her fifth semifinal in seven competitions this year.
Sabalenka was made to sweat for her win after Sherif quickly snatched the opening set.
However, it was clear that she came ready to dig in and get the job done as she powered back to win.
Sabalenka, the winner of the Australian Open, was trailing unseeded Sherif by a set and a break until she rallied from a set and a break down in the second set to win 11 of the next 12 games and improve her record this season to 27-4. The 24-year-old former Madrid champion gained the final four for the second time at the event with her gutsy performance.
Sabalenka has reached her fifteenth career semifinal at the WTA 1000 level or higher, five of which she has won. Ten of those were WTA 1000 events, four of which were Grand Slams, and one of came in the WTA Finals.
To advance back to the Madrid final for the first time since winning the title in 2021, Sabalenka will next play either No 9 seed Maria Sakkari or No 31 seed Irina-Camelia Begu.
Sherif, who is ranked No 59 in the world and is the first Egyptian to ever make it to a WTA 1000 quarterfinal, will reclaim a Top 50 ranking after having her finest run at this level.
Sherif trains in Elche in southeast Spain and has had backing from club members during her Madrid campaign.
She showed in a faultless first set that she is completely at home on these clay courts and Sabalenka did well to overcome the challenge.
The 26-year-old made only two unforced errors while securing 10 winners that included everything from deft drop shots to powerful forehands. Sabalenka struggled with Sherif’s loopy forehand and made 16 unforced errors overall, including 12 on the forehand side.
Sabalenka’s situation was not helped by her four double faults, three of which occurred in the first game on the way to losing serve.
The crucial stretch of the match was the first five games of the second set. Sabalenka continued to struggle with untimely double faults and netted overheads, so Sherif twice went up a break. However, Sabalenka came out on top of a few outstanding all-court exchanges twice after breaking back.
The World No 2 held the opening point of the set with her own drop shot at 2-2 and went on to win the match.
Sabalenka sped through 10 consecutive games, pausing to find her rhythm on Sherif’s strokes rather than attempting to take them on the rise. Sabalenka, who can still create incredible power from way back, finished with 27 winners and an alarming 37 unforced errors.
She was also able to regain control of her serve admirably, with no more double faults after serving eight at 2-2 in the second set.
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