No.9 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia continued her winning ways at the VTB Kremlin Cup on Friday, dismissing No.2 seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, 6-1, 6-1, in their quarterfinal clash.
Kontaveit leveled their head-to-head at two wins apiece with the commanding 48-minute victory over former World No.1 Muguruza, as she claimed a semifinal spot in Moscow for the first time in her career.
Fast facts: World No.20 Kontaveit has triumphed in 19 of her last 21 matches during her late-season surge, which includes her second and third WTA singles titles, at Cleveland and Ostrava respectively.
By ousting World No.5 Muguruza, Kontaveit collected the fourth Top 5 win of her career, and improves to 2-0 against Top 5 opposition this season. She also defeated then-World No.4 Sofia Kenin on the indoor clay courts of Stuttgart this spring.
COLD in Moscow 🥶— wta (@WTA) October 22, 2021
🇪🇪 Anett Kontaveit drops just 2 games against Muguruza and sets up a semifinal clash with Vondrousova!#VTBKremlinCup pic.twitter.com/5WfX4LaEfN
Tale of the match: Kontaveit swept through the affair, winning nearly 90 percent of points behind her first serve, and converting five of her seven break points. With 22 winners to only 10 unforced errors, Kontaveit controlled play with her powerful game from start to finish.
Kontaveit’s command performance started early, when she cracked a crosscourt backhand return for a winner and a break for 2-0. Another return winner from that side gave the Estonian a second break for 5-1, and she served out the set in the next game, ending the opening frame with two consecutive aces.
After giving up an immediate break in the first game of the second set, Muguruza at last had a chance to squeeze her way into the match, garnering her first break points of the day at 0-40 in the next game. Kontaveit, though, was on a mission, powering her way out of that jam by winning five straight points to hold for 2-0.
Kontaveit cruised home from there, wrapping up the match with a service break at love that concluded with one final backhand return winner.
Next up: Kontaveit will take on Olympic silver medalist Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic in the semifinals, after Vondrousova ousted Russian No.1 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in their quarterfinal.
Vondrousova has beaten Kontaveit both times they have previously played, including a come-from-behind three-setter in the first round of Wimbledon earlier this year.
Maria Sakkari claimed the last semifinal spot in Moscow, as the No.3 seed from Greece ousted No.8 seed Simona Halep of Romania, 6-4, 6-4.
In the first meeting between the pair, Sakkari fended off a furious second-set comeback by former World No.1 Halep, and eventually prevailed in an hour and 44 minutes to reach the final four in Moscow for the first time.
"The last few games were a little bit tricky, but that happens, that’s tennis," Sakkari said in her post-match press conference.
Fast facts: Sakkari, like Kontaveit, has had a solid finish to the season, as the Greek has now made the semifinals at three of her last four events. That run notably includes her second Grand Slam semifinal showing of the season at the US Open, and a trip to her first final since 2019 in Ostrava.
Sakkari, currently at a career-high ranking of World No.7 (the highest-ranked Greek woman in WTA rankings history), will take that impressive form into her Akron WTA Finals debut next month. She clinched her spot in the year-ending championships on Thursday after advancing into the Moscow quarterfinals.
Halep is still looking for her first Top 10 win of the season, after missing three months of action due to a calf injury. The Romanian, a former Roland Garros and Wimbledon champion who missed both of those events this summer, has reached only one semifinal this year and has seen her ranking slip to its current position of World No.19 after her injury-plagued 2021.
need a tutorial for the sakk bun tbh@mariasakkari | #VTBKremlinCup pic.twitter.com/YX7z6Yjrrz— wta (@WTA) October 22, 2021
Key moments: Sakkari earned the first break to lead 3-1, but when she served for the opening set at 5-3, rallies with dueling dropshots went in Halep’s favor as the Romanian pulled back on serve. However, a grueling 10-minute game followed, where Sakkari held five set points before finally breaking again to clinch the one-set lead.
The Greek started the second set strongly, breaking for 2-0 with a tremendous forehand winner down the line. Sakkari extended her lead to 5-1 and queued up a chance to serve out a routine victory. But after Sakkari reached match point there, the tenacious play of Halep started an eye-opening comeback, as she punched a volley winner on her fourth break point of that game.
Halep won eight of the next nine points as she drew errors from Sakkari, and the Romanian suddenly was back on serve at 5-4. However, Sakkari regrouped in the subsequent game, reclaiming her aggressive play from the earlier stages to grasp two more match points. Halep saved the first with a winning backhand, but Sakkari converted the second with a fiery forehand.
Next up: Sakkari will now take on Ekaterina Alexandrova, the last remaining Russian, for a spot in the VTB Kremlin Cup final. Alexandrova shocked No.1 seed Aryna Sabalenka earlier on Friday.
Sakkari has dominated her rivalry with Alexandrova, having won all three of their previous meetings. However, this will be their first matchup since 2019, and only their second Tour-level clash overall.
"She’s a very dangerous player, she likes to hit the ball very hard, and she just goes for it," said Sakkari, looking forward to another battle with Alexandrova. "Of course she’s feeling good playing at home, and today she had one of her biggest wins. So I’m expecting a very tough match from her side."