ABU DHABI, U.A.E. -- No.4 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus extended her career-best match-winning streak to 14 straight on Tuesday, charging past No.9 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece, 6-3, 6-2, to reach the final of the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open.
“I’m just focusing on the right things," Sabalenka told the media, after her win. "This helps me to, first of all, not think about all these wins, and secondly, to keep winning. I think I just need to keep focusing on my game, keep focusing on the movement on the court, and try to do everything I can in the moment. I think this works really well.”
Sabalenka had claimed the last three of her four previous encounters with Sakkari, which included wins in the Middle East last season in Dubai and Doha. With her fourth straight victory over the Greek in Abu Dhabi, the Belarusian zipped into her 13th career WTA singles final, needing just 57 minutes to grasp the win.
World No.10 Sabalenka slammed 22 winners in the match, including eight aces, tempered by just eight unforced errors in a commanding performance. The Belarusian controlled the court by winning 83 percent of her first-service points, continuing her run of success in the Middle East which extends back to a title-winning run in Doha last season, her previous event in the region.
“I just want to improve everything in my game," said Sabalenka. "I think there are still so many things to go and to improve.”
“I would say focusing on the right things helps me have fun on the court, and it makes my life a little bit easier," Sabalenka added. "I’m just enjoying the process and enjoying the game.”
Sabalenka will now await the winner of the second semifinal to determine her final opponent, but she knows she will be facing a first-time WTA singles finalist in either Veronika Kudermetova of Russia or Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine.
“Both aggressive players, moving really well," said Sabalenka. "I need to be really focused, as always, and also serve is really important tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to this final.”
Sabalenka got off to a thunderous start, dominating the early stages of the first set with her serve and forehand. The Belarusian powered to a quick break for 2-0 and was impenetrable during her first three service games, racing to 4-1 without dropping a point on serve.
After cracking a forehand return winner to break Sakkari at love for 5-1, Sabalenka was cruising to the one-set lead. However, at 15-0 in that game, Sakkari fired a return that landed square on the baseline, ending Sabalenka’s 13-point winning streak on her serve. The Greek grabbed some momentum from that point, forcing errors with her sturdy shots to earn a break for 5-2.
Sabalenka did regroup, and the Belarusian served out the set at 5-3 with more powerful groundstrokes, converting her second set point by forcing an error with a stirring crosscourt backhand. That shot ended a robust opening frame by the No.4 seed, who blasted nine winners and converted both of the break points she held.
At 2-2 in the second set, Sakkari surged back from 0-40 down to deuce with some clutch serving, but Sabalenka would not be denied, cracking forehand winners to keep herself ahead in the game. The No.4 seed eventually converted her fifth break point of the game with a forehand winner down the line, collecting a pivotal service break for 3-2.
Sabalenka eased towards the win from there, knocking off two straight service winners to hold for 4-2 before going up a double-break at 5-2, via some untimely double faults by Sakkari. Serving for the match, Sabalenka did not miss a beat, firing aces to clinch the last two points and romp into the final.
The doubles final is also set for Wednesday, with No.5 seeds Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara facing No.8 seeds Hayley Carter and Luisa Stefani for the title.
Aoyama and Shibahara, both of Japan, defeated Sofia Kenin of the United States and Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia, 6-4, 6-3. Carter of the United States and Stefani of Brazil outlasted reigning US Open champions Laura Siegemund of Germany and Vera Zvonareva of Russia, 7-5, 1-6, [10-8].