Elena Rybakina maintained her unbeaten record in WTA 1000 quarterfinals this year with a 7-5, 6-2 upset of top seed and former champion Aryna Sabalenka on Friday at the China Open.
The 2022 Wimbledon champion needed 1 hour and 34 minutes to book a place in her eighth semifinal of the year, and advances to the penultimate round in her Beijing debut. Up next, she'll face unseeded Liudmila Samsonova in a rematch of their match from Montreal this summer in the same round, which Samsonova won.
The serve was the story in Ryakina and Sabalenka's third meeting this year following the Australian Open and Indian Wells finals. After Sabalenka served 16 aces in her third-round win against Jasmine Paolini, she struggled against Rybakina. She hit only four aces and eight double faults, including two in the 5-5 game that decided the first set, and was broken four times. Rybakina, by contrast, hit a dozen aces, and after the pair traded breaks in the third and fourth games of the in the opener, she never faced break point again.
The 11th game of the first set was crucial in more ways than one: It had seven deuces, and Sabalenka failed to convert three game points before Rybakina converted on her fifth. In 19 points played in the game, Sabalenka hit eight unforced errors.
"I played really well today," Rybakina said afterward. "I served really well, so I'm really happy with my performance today. It's always tough battles against Aryna and I really enjoy playing against her."
In set two, Rybakina won five games in a row to finish the match after the set began with three service holds.
Rybakina now boasts four career wins (and a 4-0 record) against World No.1s, having beaten Iga Swiatek three times during the Pole's tenure at the top. But she'll look to turn around a losing head-to-head against Samsonova next, as she's 0-3 all-time against her.
The unseeded Samsonova powered into her fourth semifinal of the season, and second at WTA 1000 level, with a 6-3, 6-2 defeat of No.13 seed Jelena Ostapenko in 66 minutes. In a matchup of pure first-strike power, it was the Montreal runner-up's prowess on serve that proved decisive: she dropped just two points behind her first serve and faced just one break point, but was able to repeatedly tee off on the Ostapenko delivery to break the Latvian five times.
The result knocks Ostapenko out of contention for the WTA Finals Cancun. The former Roland Garros champion had needed to win Beijing to keep her hopes of qualifying directly alive.