STRASBOURG, France - Over two hours and 26 minutes spread over two days and across multiple rain delays, No.4 seed Aryna Sabalenka escaped Katerina Siniakova's web 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 to reach her second straight Internationaux de Strasbourg semifinal.
The Belarusian had to battle back from a set and a break down in both second and third sets, but by the conclusion had ridden out the sundry interruptions to the contest with aplomb and was displaying not only greater power, but superior adaptation and variety to the conditions than her opponent. The result moves the World No.12 into the last four of a WTA tournament for the third time this year, and first since the Tour's resumption, following her semifinal showing in Adelaide and title in Doha.
"It was a great battle," said a relieved Sabalenka afterwards. "It was a tough one yesterday - I had a lot of opportunities and still I lost it. It was tough to sleep because of the score. I tried to think about different things - watch some movies, speak with my family - tried not to think about tennis otherwise I wouldn't be able to compete today. I only tried to think about the match in the warmup [today]!"
Indeed, on Thursday Sabalenka had been overmatches by a razor-sharp Siniakova, who entered the clay season having not defeated a Top 30 opponent since her upset of then-World No.1 Naomi Osaka at Roland Garros last year, but was seeking her twice in as many weeks after stunning Angelique Kerber in Rome last week. The Czech was efficient in her pursuit of this, dropping just six points on serve in the opening set and never facing a break point while capturing both of hers.
Sabalenka had been able to get a foothold in the match before it was called off for first rain and then darkness, recovering an early second-set break to lead 2-1 at close of play. On resumption today, the 22-year-old continued to surge, landing 89% of her first serves - up from 62% in the first set - en route to levelling the match.
Another rain delay prior to the decider allowed Siniakova to reset, though, and the World No.62 was fast out of the blocks - particularly with the forehand down the line, which garnered her a number of points as she broke first to take a 3-1 lead. But Sabalenka would up her power to break back - and then a four-deuce tussle on the higher-ranked player's serve saw Siniakova squander a break point for 4-2 with a long backhand.
By now, Sabalenka was impressing not only with her usual pace of shot but her patience in dealing with the damp conditions. The former World No.9 was willing to stick in longer rallies, judicious in coming forward to end them with some superb reflex volleys, and not averse to throwing in the odd forehand slice to mix things up - one of which elicited a Siniakova error down break point for Sabalenka to take the 4-3 lead.
An off-court medical timeout was unable to help Siniakova turn the momentum back around: when she returned, the 24-year-old was only able to win one of the last nine points of the match as Sabalenka raced to the finish line to set up a semifinal clash against No.2 seed Elina Svitolina later today.