Aryna Sabalenka’s romp through the Mutua Madrid Open will extend to the very last match of the fortnight, as the No.5 seed zipped past Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-2, 6-3, to reach the final.
"I think my game has improved a lot on the clay court," Sabalenka told the press, after she rolled to a 9-1 win-loss record on the surface this season. "For sure, it's given me some confidence, but there's still so many things to work on. I'm just really happy with my level here in Madrid."
Sabalenka needed just over an hour to defeat six-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist Pavlyuchenkova, improving her overall 2021 win-loss record to 23-6.
The Belarusian continued her surge through the Madrid draw -- Sabalenka hasn’t dropped a set, and indeed has only ceded 18 games as she dispatched her opposition in the Spanish capital.
"I think from the side it looks like everything is going my way," Sabalenka said. "Some games I didn't feel my serve. Some games something wasn't working. It's always part of the process. But I'm really happy that from the side, it looks like everything is going my way."
Pavlyuchenkova had defeated Sabalenka in their only prior encounter, on the hardcourts of Toronto in 2019. But this time around, Sabalenka won 73 percent of her second-service points and converted four of her five break points to end the run of the World No.41.
Sabalenka also fired 21 winners to just 11 unforced errors, continuing an event where she has had only positive differentials between those two metrics. Pavlyuchenkova, by contrast, had eight of each.
Therefore, Sabalenka has notched a spot in her third final of the year. The Belarusian won the season-opening event in Abu Dhabi and finished as runner-up in the previous WTA clay-court event in Stuttgart.
In fact, it will be a rematch of the Stuttgart final, as Sabalenka will face her vanquisher, World No.1 Ashleigh Barty, in the Madrid championship match. Barty claimed her spot in the Madrid final by exacting revenge on the last player to beat her, Spanish hope Paula Badosa, in Thursday’s earlier semifinal.
"Physically I have to be ready for this match," Sabalenka said, as she looked ahead to Barty. "She's No.1, she's great. I played her in Stuttgart. It's not an easy game. I will do everything I can to prepare myself as good as I can. Just looking forward for this battle."
Sabalenka made her presence felt right away by crushing a series of returns to earn a stirring service break and lead 3-1. The power plays continued unabated as Sabalenka stormed through the remainder of the opening set, slamming an array of ferocious forehands in the final game as she broke Pavlyuchenkova again to take the one-set advantage.
Sabalenka cruised through the early stages of the second set as well, collecting two more service breaks to reach 4-0. Pavlyuchenkova at last garnered her first break points of the day in that game, but Sabalenka powered her way out of trouble, holding for 5-0 and putting herself at the precipice of another final.
However, Pavlyuchenkova made a last stand and turned the second set into a more competitive affair. The hard-hitting Russian blasted her way to a love break to cut the lead to 5-2, and a hold for 5-3 put pressure on Sabalenka.
Sabalenka, though, would not relent on serve again, using two consecutive blistering backhands to set up her first match point. There, the No.5 seed fired her fourth ace of the match, closing out the victory and setting up another clash with the World No.1, Ashleigh Barty.
"I'm just trying to stay positive and just trying to enjoy my life," Sabalenka said. "But I was always like this, I'm always smiling, always having fun.
"Sometimes I have bad days. But when I'm here in Madrid and I'm playing my best and I see fans watching, there is nothing to be worried about and to be sad about. This week I'm definitely a happy person. Hopefully I just keep going like this."