WUHAN, China - World No.20 Aryna Sabalenka edged into her second straight Premier 5 semifinal of the 2018 season, knocking out 2016 Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open runner-up Dominika Cibulkova, 7-5, 6-3.
"I'm so happy to be in the semifinals. It's a nice tournament. I always like to be in China. I always play well here," Sabalenka said during her on-court interview, adding in press: "I don't know why. Probably the fried rice make me much stronger on the court."
"It was not an easy match because she's moving really well and she puts a lot of balls in," she continued. "She put pressure on me. Sometimes the game was going up, sometimes down. Well, I'm so happy that I finish this match with win."
The Connecticut Open champion has amassed an impressive 18-4 record since the Coupe Rogers back in August, reaching the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open semifinals in Cincinnati and her first Grand Slam second week at the US Open. Sabalenka channeled that run of form against Cibulkova, herself in the midst of a career renaissance, to emerge victorious after one hour and 23 minutes on court.
"I try not to worry too much. See the ball, hit the ball. This is the key!" she laughed on court.
Playing one another for the first time on Centre Court, the 20-year-old recovered from an early exchange of breaks to take a 5-3 lead in the opening set.
Cibulkova, who made her first major quarterfinal in two years at Wimbledon and outlasted an ailing Simona Halep earlier in the week, showed her signature fighting spirit to break the Belarusian as she served for the set and leveled proceedings at five games apiece.
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Sabalenka scored a solid upset of her own to start the week in Wuhan, shocking former World No.3 Elina Svitolina en route to the quarterfinals, and steadied her explosive game to win the final two games of the opening set.
"It's not the best form I've had. I'm just trying to work that with some things which aren't going on my side. I'm just trying to find the way to win. I did it well."
Taking that momentum into the second, the youngster raced out to a 3-0 lead, and though Cibulkova edged back on serve, Sabalenka steadied once more to pull ahead by another break, serving out the match and her spot in the semifinals.
In all, she struck an even 23 winners to 23 unforced errors - including five booming aces - and converted five of 10 break point opportunities. Cibulkova, by contrast, struggled on serve, winning under half of the points played on her first serve and striking just 10 winners to 16 unforced errors.
Up next for August's Breakthrough Player of the Month is another young gun in Aussie Ashleigh Barty, who survived a strong challenge from Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova earlier in the afternoon.
"I played against her on Australian Open. It was such a good match. I've really been waiting for our next one. She's a great player. I would like to say that she's tricky player because she's playing slice, lobs, with spin. It will be not easy match; of course, in semifinal, who gets easy here?"