Maria Sakkari of Greece broke a string of semifinal losses and moved into her first WTA singles final in more than two years, knocking out No.1 seed Iga Swiatek of Poland 6-4, 7-5 on Saturday in the J&T Banka Ostrava Open semifinals.
The No.4 seed Sakkari had lost her past nine WTA semifinals, dating back to May 2019, when she won her lone title on the clay courts of Rabat. Meanwhile, Swiatek had never lost a tour-level semifinal and was 2-0 in that particular round in 2021.
But Sakkari was determined to upend those bellwethers, and she did so with a 1-hour and 51-minute victory over the top seed. By reaching the final, Sakkari outpaces her showing in last year’s inaugural Ostrava event, where she fell in the semifinals to Victoria Azarenka.
Fast facts: Sakkari is now 2-0 against Swiatek in their two meetings. In their lone previous meeting, Sakkari was responsible for ending Swiatek’s 2020 Roland Garros title defense, defeating the Pole in straight sets in the quarterfinals earlier this season.
Currently ranked at a career-high World No.12, Sakkari now has collected seven wins over Top 10 opposition this season following her latest victory over World No.6 Swiatek. Sitting at No.6 on the Porsche Race to the WTA Finals Leaderboard, Sakkari is edging closer to a possible Top 10 debut sometime this season.
Sakkari won a sturdy 77 percent of points on her first serve in the affair, and finished the match with 22 winners to Swiatek's 19. Sakkari was only broken once as she built a lead and held on through a closely contested second set.
Sakkari says: "I think we both played better today," she said in press, comparing this match to their Roland Garros clash. "It was a very high-level match, and I’m very happy that I could bring that level today. It’s a very important thing for me, and Iga is a very tough opponent because she’s very solid and she fights a lot. She’s one of the best players now, and I’m very happy with the way I played.
"A title would be ideal, but it’s already a very positive week. I’m just going to enjoy being in another final tomorrow, and back myself that I can lift the trophy, of course."
Key plays: The die was cast in the very first game of the match, where Sakkari slammed a forehand winner to obtain the decisive lone break of the first set. Sakkari never faced a break point in that set, sweeping to the one-set lead by hitting 13 winners to Swiatek’s nine.
Sakkari faced adversity in two lengthy service games in the early stages of the second set, and had to fend off her first break point of the day before holding for 2-2. But after pulling herself out of that danger, the Greek drew errors from Swiatek to move ahead by a break at 3-2.
Swiatek finally broke the Sakkari serve later on, charging into the forecourt for a putaway to level the set at 4-4. But at 5-5, Sakkari again put Swiatek's serve under pressure, and she converted her third break point of that game with a forehand winner down the line to lead 6-5. Sakkari polished off the win on her first match point in the following game.
Next up: Sakkari is now one win away from her second career WTA singles title. To get that crown, she will have to beat the winner of Saturday’s second semifinal: Anett Kontaveit of Estonia.
Kontaveit dispatches crowd favorite Kvitova
Kontaveit made sure neither of the top two seeds made it into the final, as the Estonian dismissed No.2 seed and home hope Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic 6-0, 6-4.
Kvitova brought a 5-2 head-to-head lead into their latest clash, but Kontaveit turned that record on its head, breezing to victory in just 1 hour and 11 minutes. It is Kontaveit's third Top 10 win of the year, along with victories over Sofia Kenin in Stuttgart and Bianca Andreescu in Eastbourne.
The World No.30 Kontaveit is into her fourth final of 2021. She won her second career title in Cleveland, finished as runner-up to Jelena Ostapenko in Eastbourne, and shared the Grampians Trophy finalist result with Ann Li after that final was not played due to a scheduling delay. All told, Kontaveit has now won her past five tour-level semifinals.
It was a pristine display by Kontaveit on Saturday, who played a clean match while drawing numerous miscues from two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova. Kontaveit had 18 winners to just seven unforced errors; on the other side of the net, Kvitova fired 28 unforced errors while her powerful game only yielded 11 winners.
Those unforced errors were the key story in the bagel opening set: Kvitova had a whopping 16 (to just two winners) while Kontaveit had a paltry two unforced errors during that stanza.
Kvitova finally got on the scoreboard in the opening game of the second set, but Kontaveit was always in charge. Kontaveit took the lead for good when she struck a backhand winner off of a Kvitova drop shot, breaking the Czech at love for 3-2.
Kvitova did save a match point in a lengthy game to hold serve for 5-4, and she then used a deft lob to obtain her first break point of the encounter in the next game, as Kontaveit served for the win. But Kontaveit evaded that peril, and finished off the game, and the match, by forcing one final error from Kvitova with a big backhand.