HOBART, Australia – No.3 seed Elena Rybakina fought back from a one-set deficit to overcome wildcard Lizette Cabrera 6-7(4), 7-6(2), 7-5 and move into the semifinal of the Hobart International after a two-hour 39-minute arm wrestle.
The Shenzhen runner-up had enjoyed a straightforward passage to the quarters by overcoming Tamara Zidansek and Alizé Cornet in straight sets, but she would find life tougher against the WTA World No.129.
Cabrera deservedly pinched the opening set on a tiebreak, but in a similar scenario in the second, it was Rybakina who dominated the shootout.
The 20-year-old went on to seal the victory in the third, ensuring that she did not suffer the same fare as fellow seeds Garbiñe Muguruza and Elise Mertens, who had succumbed to illness and defeat earlier on Thursday.
“It was a really tough much - I didn’t play well today. I’m happy I could come back in the second set,” she said. “Lizette played really well.
“I played aggressively, and I was trying to come forward but if my serve is going well, it’s easier for me to play my points.”
Rybakina made a positive start to the match, breaking in the opening game as Cabrera displayed some nerves in her first WTA Tour quarterfinal in over two years.
Once settled, though, the Australian, who had suffered defeat in both previous visits to this stage of a tournament, became dangerous due to her aggression on her opponents’ second serve and her fluency on the backhand side, from which she hit a string of winners.
It was from this wing that she was able to work her way back into the set and force a tiebreak, which was sealed by a backhand that had been such a hallmark of Cabrera’s play in the opener.
Superb play from Elena Rybakina! 👍#HobartTennis pic.twitter.com/tCBdZF1OW9— WTA (@WTA) January 16, 2020
The second followed a similar pattern to the first, with Rybakina breaking at the first opportunity and striking out to establish a 3-0 lead.
She even had an opportunity to secure a double break as Cabrera’s serve proved less effective than it had been in the opening set, but another backhand winner helped her salvage the situation.
It also proved the foundation for the Australian to fight back in the set, breaking as Rybakina’s favored forehand failed her at a crucial juncture.
But where Cabrera was able to find an edge in the 13th-game shootout in the opener, it was Rybakina who dominated in the second, sealing it with the forehand that had been her trump card throughout.
The Australian had survived three-set encounters with Caroline Garcia and Kristyna Pliskova already this week but her lives ran out against the WTA World No.30, who once again moved ahead with an early break.
The decisive set swung to-and-fro as the players exchanged regular breaks in an encounter that could have swung either way until the last.
Rybakina, though, found a little extra quality to break decisively in the 11th game before holding to seal a semifinal berth against Heather Watson, who spent over three-and-a-half hours on court as she ended Elise Mertens’ extraordinary Hobart record earlier in the day.