ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Julia Goerges' quest for a Top 10 ranking is still in full effect, as the German moved past 18-year-old Russian qualifier Elena Rybakina, 6-3, 6-3, on Friday, to enter the semifinals at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy.
“[Rybakina's] a big hitter, and she hit some very big shots," Goerges said on court, after the match. "I had to make sure that I moved very well, and neutralized them, and tried to be aggressive as well. I think, after a little bit of a slow start and a very good [start] from her, I got better into the match.”
Goerges, currently sitting at a career-high ranking of World No.12, has won 18 of her last 19 matches, dating back to October of last year. She is looking for her fourth title in her last five tournaments contested, after championships at the Kremlin Cup and the WTA Elite Trophy last year, and the ASB Classic to open 2018.
By making the semifinals here, Goerges has also given herself a chance to debut in the Top 10 of the WTA rankings, depending upon her results, as well as the performance of defending champion Kristina Mladenovic in St. Petersburg.
In the semifinals, Goerges will face two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who beat No.2 seed and reigning Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko, 6-0, 6-2. “I think every match is tough, and it doesn’t matter who you’re going to face, but I’ll just try to do my best," Goerges said. "That’s all I can control, and what I’m going to do, and hopefully it will be a good one.”
Goerges finished the match with 21 winners, including six aces, and only 17 unforced errors. Rybakina had 11 chances to break in the match, but could only convert twice, and though she once again held her own with another WTA powerhouse, seven double faults, many of which were at crucial points, were her undoing.
Rybakina started strongly, as her fearless power game, particularly on service return, was in fine form. The young Russian broke for a 2-0 lead behind powerful forehands, and held for 3-0 to put the much higher-ranked German in an early predicament.
But Goerges started to overwhelm Rybakina with her own masterful hard hitting, and the set became a bruising battle, where the German usually came out the victor. Goerges broke back for 3-2 with a backhand winner. Then, at 3-3, Rybakina squandered a 40-0 lead with two double faults and an error into the net, eventually giving up her serve to hand Goerges a break advantage.
The German pounced from there, holding at love, and then breaking Rybakina’s serve for the third consecutive time, to clinch the set after a run of six consecutive games. After the slow start, Goerges became more consistent with her power hitting, finishing the set with 13 winners, compared to only seven unforced errors.
"I was surprised the way she was hitting the ball, it was very fast," Goerges told the press after the match. "I was just very happy with the way I fought back into the set. I took a little bit of her momentum away, and I used a lot of my experience today on court."
Goerges continued to roll at the start of the second set, as Rybakina seemed to falter after a stellar but grueling run to her first WTA quarterfinal, which required over seven-and-a-half hours of play through three rounds of qualifying and two main draw victories, including an epic encounter over World No.7 Caroline Garcia for her first career Top 10 win.
But the errors started to increase from the racquet of Goerges after taking a 2-0 lead in the second, and Rybakina broke to get back on serve at 2-1, ending a streak of eight straight games won by the German.
Rybakina, however, could not stick with Goerges as the match progressed, and, at 3-2, blew a game point with consecutive double faults, and then hit a forehand long to cede another break to Goerges.
The Russian put up a valiant effort in the 4-2 game, holding four break points to get back on serve, but Goerges persevered, saving them all, including two with aces. Rybakina held once more before Goerges closed out the match in 77 minutes after a service return went wide by the Russian.
"I tried to get used to her speed, to her game plan, and that was really good from my side, and that’s what I’m very proud of," Goerges concluded.