STUTTGART, Germany -- No.8 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia came back from a set and a break down to push her Porsche Tennis Grand Prix quarterfinal match against former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka into a third set, where Azarenka retired due to a right shoulder injury while trailing 5-7, 7-5, 3-0.
"Of course, it feels great to be back in the semi-finals," Kontaveit told the press, after the match. "Not the way I wanted to win in the end but I thought it was quite a high level match. I was quite lucky to get through the second set somehow."
Azarenka served for the match at 5-4 in the second set, but Kontaveit weathered that storm, eventually reaching the semifinals in Stuttgart for the second year in a row. The World No.15 also leveled her head-to-head against two-time Grand Slam champion Azarenka, as the Belarusian had won their only previous match, in the first round of Wimbledon in 2015.
The Estonian is into her second straight semifinal of the year after a final-four showing at the Miami Open last month. Kontaveit had 37 winners in Friday's quarterfinal, including six aces. The power player kept her unforced errors under her winner total, with 35 miscues.
"[Azarenka] was returning so well the whole match actually," Kontaveit admitted. "I didn’t return as well as she did definitely and I think that really gave her the edge, but I just tried to stay in there as much as I could and I felt like, on these close moments, she made a couple of errors and gave me a chance to come back a little bit."
Kontaveit sets up a hard-hitting semifinal against World No.1 Naomi Osaka, who wriggled out of a 1-5 deficit in the final set of her quarterfinal match against Donna Vekic earlier on Friday. Osaka has won all three of their prior meetings, but they have not played in over a year.
"Well, [Osaka is a] great player, I think I don’t need to say that," Kontaveit stated. "She hits the ball really hard, she has a great serve, a great forehand, it’s definitely going to be quite fast tennis from her. And I’ll just have to try to stay tough and get as many balls back as I can, and then use my chances when I can to be aggressive and take the initiative as much as I can."
Power tennis was the initial order of the day, as the two big hitters blasted groundstrokes at each other for the duration of the first set. After missing a break point in the previous game, Azarenka had to use her arsenal to maneuver through a tricky game at 3-2, fending off three break points before leveling the set at three games apiece.
Azarenka’s big chance came at 5-5, where she used strong returning to get to double break point. Kontaveit evaded those chances, pulling herself to game point, but Azarenka found a forehand down the line to edge back to a third break point of the game. There, another huge return by the Belarusian forced an error from Kontaveit, earning Azarenka the first break of the match.
Serving for the set at 6-5, Azarenka came back from 15-30 by reeling off three straight points with backhand winners down the line, clinching the one-set lead. Azarenka had 11 winners to 10 unforced errors in the set, while Kontaveit had 16 winners to 15 unforced errors. The crucial difference was Azarenka converting one of her four break points, while Kontaveit was 0-for-3.
However, there were plenty of service breaks in the second set -- seven in total. Azarenka kept her momentum going in the first game, as Kontaveit dropped her serve, but the Estonian finally claimed a break of her own, crushing a backhand return winner off a second serve to level the set at 2-2.
Three straight breaks of service followed before Azarenka stopped the run and held for 5-3, putting her a game away from the semifinals. When serving for the match at 5-4, though, the former World No.1 found herself in trouble, and faced two break points. On the second, Kontaveit powered a backhand winner crosscourt to pull to 5-5.
After completing a protracted service hold with an ace, putting her up 6-5, Kontaveit seized opportunities in the next game. Azarenka fell from 30-15 to set point down with consecutive double faults, and though she saved one, a second chance came Kontaveit’s way. That time, the Estonian powered another return winner to steal the second set.
As the final set started, Azarenka was clearly feeling an injury that affected her service motion, and she could not convert one of her two game points at 1-0, eventually dropping serve and falling behind 2-0.
Azarenka took a medical timeout to tend to what turned out to be a shoulder injury, but when serving while trailing 3-0, the injury appeared to be too much to bear, and the former World No.1 was forced to call it quits.