OSTRAVA, Czech Republic - No.3 seed Aryna Sabalenka claimed her first straight sets victory of a trying week to take down Jennifer Brady and book her spot into the inaugural J&T Banka Ostrava Open final.
The Belarusian has been tested all throughout her Ostrava campaign, having to come back from a set down in both of her matches en route to the semifinals - including a back-from-the-brink turnaround from 0-6, 0-4 against Sara Sorribes Tormo yesterday. It’s not any easier in doubles, where Sabalenka is the top seed alongside Elise Mertens: the pair fought through back-to-back match tiebreaks to advance to the final four.
She had to bring all of her firepower to get going early against Lexington champion Brady, blasting 22 winners and converting 100% of her break opportunities to record a 6-4, 6-4 victory in an hour and 15 minutes.
“We did a different warmup for the match, and my preparation was a little bit different so I could be more on from the beginning,” Sabalenka said after the match. “After matches like I had in the quarterfinals and the second round, you kind of feel confident. You don’t feel that pressure because you fight til the end, even if you’re down in the score you take pressure from yourself and it allows you to play more free and have this right thinking during the match.”
Sabalenka made sure to avoid another sluggish start against Brady, applying the pressure with her booming groundstrokes and earning the first break of the match, 2-1. She covered the court with confidence and struck winners off both wings to take control of the set as she reeled off five games in a row to make it 5-1.
But Brady herself had mounted big comebacks in Ostrava, and was eager to make this another as stepped into the court and played aggressive tennis to grab one of the break backs and narrow Sabalenka’s lead to 5-3. The Belarusian stayed composed as she served out the set to love, 6-4.
Photo gallery: In pictures: The story of Ostrava 2020
Sabalenka got ahead early in the second set as well, converting a break chance in the first game to dash out to a 2-0 lead. Brady did well to keep pace with the Doha champion, covering the court and staying in the points - but Sabalenka continued to boss proceedings as she saved two break points to seal the victory 6-4, 6-4.
“I was playing from the beginning until the end,” Sabalenka said. “Those [close] games, she played really well so it was nothing to do with me. She just played really well, and I was just like, keep going.
“I just said to myself, Okay, she did well. Let her play, let her go for a few more winners if she can. That mindset really helped me to come back in those games.”
But the biggest test of the week is yet to come for Sabalenka, who will meet countrywoman Victoria Azarenka in the WTA’s first-ever all-Belarusian final.
“It’s a big day tomorrow, and I’m really happy that we’re both in the final,” Sabalenka said. “[Two] Belarusians, this has never happened before, and it’s something big for us. I’m just really looking forward for tomorrow and I’m ready for a big fight.
“She’s moving really well, physically she’s really strong. Her game is really tough, and she’s not missing a lot, moving well and also aggressive. It’s going to be tough.”
Azarenka is in red-hot form, through to her third post-break final in Ostrava and she handily dispatched Sabalenka in straight sets in their most recent encounter at last month’s US Open, winning 6-1, 6-3 in the second round.
Sabalenka is seeking her second title of 2020 after a victory at the Qatar Total Open in Doha in February, as well as a seventh career title.