DUBAI, UAE - No.8 seed Petra Martic advanced to her first WTA semifinal in five months by virtue of a 7-6(4), 6-1 victory over Anett Kontaveit on Thursday at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
A two-time finalist at WTA events last season, the Croat was a winner last April at the Istanbul Cup and finished runner-up to Karolina Pliskova at the inaugural Premier event in Zhengzhou last fall.
Though she had yet to win back-to-back matches in 2020 before arriving in Dubai, the World No.15 has not dropped a set in three matches so far this week to reach the final four, having gone winless in three prior trips to the tournament - once in qualifying, and twice in the main draw.
"The season has just started. Basically, I haven't played much. I was trying to find my rhythm the first few tournaments. It seems like it worked out here," she said after the match.
"I think these conditions really suit my game well. The ball is bouncing really high. It's great for my kick serve, for my spin ball. I don't know why I didn't play well before, but right now I'm just trying to really just enjoy this tournament."
In the first-ever meeting between two players who boast career-best rankings inside the Top 20, Martic saved a set point in the first set and battled back from an early deficit in the ensuing tiebreak before she eased through to a one-hour, 42-minute victory over the World No.24 and Australian Open quarterfinalist.
Martic trailed 2-0 in the opener, losing seven of the first eight points to begin the match, but quickly worked her way back even thanks to an immediate re-break in Kontaveit's second service game.
It was the Croat who had more chances in the set overall, as Kontaveit saved a break point at both 3-3 and 4-4, before she turned aside the Estonian's lone chance to win the set in a crucial 12th game. In a game where Martic led 40-0, she was pegged back to deuce by two winners - and one perfect pass from the Estonian that ticked off Martic's racquet frame - and later saved set point in style, with a deft backhand dropshot on a perfectly-executed serve-and-volley play.
After four deuces and five prior game points, Martic finally held to force a tiebreak, and won six of seven points played from 3-1 down to seal the set thanks in part to a dip in the Estonian's level.
"It was tough throughout the match. I mean, she's hitting really hard. I had to stay alert because she was attacking my serve. If you kind of let go, dropping your focus, she's back in the game in no time," Martic said.
"I just tried to be sharp out there from the first to the last point. I think I did it pretty well."
In the second set, the Croatian No.1 set the tone early, losing just five points in the first three games to take a lead she'd never relinquish. She saved both break points she faced in the second set - each of which came at crucial stages - as she denied the Estonian No.1 two break point opportunities when leading 3-1, and another when she served out the match.
With a spot in the final on the line, Martic will next have the task of cooling down a similar big hitter in the red-hot Elena Rybakina, who scored her first-ever Top 5 victory over Karolina Pliskova in Wednesday's first quarterfinal match. The pair have never played.
"I like those kind of different players, like some of big hitters, some of big servers, some are slicing around. It's fun," she assessed. "It's going to be a nice challenge, I think. I hope I can cause some damage with my serve, as well. We'll see who is going to do it better."