No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka moved into her third final of the season Friday with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over last year’s runner-up, No.7 seed Maria Sakkari, in the BNP Paribas Open semifinals.
Sakkari had beaten Sabalenka in their past two matches, which came in the group stages at the WTA Finals in both 2021 and 2022. But Sabalenka prevailed in 1 hour and 23 minutes in the Californian desert, increasing her head-to-head lead over Sakkari to 5-3.
Sabalenka speaks: "I'm just super happy with another final and super happy with the win against Maria," Sabalenka said in her post-match press conference. "She's such a great fighter, and it's always tough matches against her.
"I feel really good on court right now, but I also have understanding that it's not going to be the same all the time. So that's why I keep working hard, make sure in those days when things are not working my way, I still will be able to compete and to get these wins."
Into her FIRST @BNPPARIBASOPEN final 🌴— wta (@WTA) March 18, 2023
No.2 seed @SabalenkaA takes out Sakkari, 6-2, 6-3! pic.twitter.com/Kk82CJBbnp
On to the final: Sabalenka will face reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina for the WTA 1000 title on Sunday. Rybakina stormed past defending champion and World No.1 Iga Swiatek in the day's second semifinal.
The final will be a rematch of this year’s Australian Open final, where Sabalenka triumphed over Rybakina in a tight three-setter to win her first Grand Slam singles title. Sabalenka is 4-0 overall against Rybakina.
Sabalenka is also an undefeated 4-0 in her previous WTA 1000 finals, with her most recent WTA 1000 title coming at Madrid in 2021. Sabalenka had lost her past three WTA 1000 semifinals before grabbing this victory over Sakkari.
24 - Since 2018, when Aryna Sabalenka won her first match against a top-10 (Karolina Pliskova in Eastbourne), she is the player with the most top-10 wins: 24, surpassing Maria Sakkari (23). Shining.#TennisParadise | @BNPPARIBASOPEN @WTA @WTA_insider pic.twitter.com/lIzuxjFQ7E— OptaAce (@OptaAce) March 18, 2023
Adding victories: Sabalenka has compiled a 17-1 win-loss record this season, and she has lost only five sets in her 18 matches this year. Sabalenka is now tied with Caroline Garcia (17-7) for the most WTA main-draw match-wins in 2023. Sabalenka has also won five of her past six matches against Top 10 opposition.
A victory in the final would make Sabalenka the first player to win three titles in 2023, having prevailed at the Australian Open and Adelaide International 1. Belinda Bencic (Adelaide International 2 and Abu Dhabi champion) is the only player other than Sabalenka to have won two titles this season.
Key moments: Sabalenka used aggressive returns to crack open the first set, breaking Sakkari three times in succession to wrap up the one-set lead. Sakkari saved the first two set points she faced with unreturned serves, but she sent a forehand out of court on Sabalenka’s third opportunity.
The second set was defined by the 3-2 game, which went to deuce four times and saw Sakkari hold two game points. But Sabalenka slammed a backhand service return winner down the line to earn her third break point of that game, which she converted with a winning forehand that clipped the sideline.
Sabalenka finished the match with 21 winners to Sakkari's nine, and she converted five of her ten break points.