Playing as the No.1 seed in a WTA tournament for the first time, Maria Sakkari continued to live up to her billing with a 7-6(7), 6-2 win over No.8 seed Elise Mertens in the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy quarterfinals.
Sakkari saved three set points in a narrowly contested first set before sealing it on her own third opportunity, and converted her fourth match point after 2 hours and 7 minutes. The result puts the Greek into her first semifinal of the year, and 10th in her last 23 tournaments dating back to Ostrava 2020. It is her second run to the last four in St. Petersburg, having lost to Elena Rybakina at that stage in 2020.
Sakkari and Mertens, both 26-year-olds whose ascent up the rankings to become Grand Slam semifinalists has been steady and patient, have been playing since their ITF $10K days in 2014. That year, Mertens won three of their four matches; however, since their first WTA-level meeting in Australian Open 2016 qualifying, Sakkari has now taken four of their most recent five encounters.
Highlights: Begu d. Martincova
In the semifinals, Sakkari will face Irina-Camelia Begu, who defeated Tereza Martincova 6-4, 6-2 in an all-unseeded encounter. The Romanian triumphed in 1 hour and 25 minutes to book her biggest semifinal in over four years. It is the fourth last-four showing of Begu's career at WTA 500 level or above, following Moscow 2014 (where she was runner-up), Rome 2016 and Moscow 2017.
Match management: A riveting first set was unpredictable until the last point. It featured six breaks of serve and plenty of mini momentum shifts as both players found their best tennis when behind.
No.7-ranked Sakkari raced through the first six points, but it was Mertens who scored the first break with a pair of superb backhands. The Belgian held two points for a 5-2 double-break lead, only for Sakkari to stave those off with big serving and take the next three games to lead 5-4.
Sakkari held her first two set points in that game, only for Mertens to escape thanks to some delicate net play. But despite coming within two points of the set at 6-5, the World No.26 could not serve it out, and nor could she convert three set points of her own in the ensuing tiebreak.
Ultimately, it was Sakkari who proved more solid: the final three points of the set were all decided by unforced errors from Mertens, attempting vainly to hit through the Greek's defence.
A sprinkling of double faults in the first set from Mertens turned into a full-on cascade in the second. She committed two in each of her first three service games, twice on the last two points, and eventually tallied 11. But despite quickly gaining a 5-0 lead, Sakkari became edgy closing the match out.
Mertens faced a match point at 5-0, but avoided the bagel by smacking a return winner - a go-for-broke approach that threatened an unlikely comeback. Serving for the match a second time, Sakkari fell 0-40 down after losing the first point on a net touch. Mertens was still too error-prone to take that opportunity, though, and Sakkari found a strong first serve to convert her fourth match point.
In Sakkari's words: "When you're down in the score, you try to play more aggressively and she was playing really good in the last couple of games - she came up with good serves and solid shots from the baseline. I just fought hard."