STRASBOURG, France -- No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus moved past 2014 champion Monica Puig of Puerto Rico to reach the semifinals of the Internationaux de Strasbourg, claiming a hard-fought 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 victory on Friday.
"I’m happy that I found my game here in Strasbourg," Sabalenka said, after the match. "It’s a nice crowd here, it’s cool to be here."
World No.11 Sabalenka avenged a loss to Puig in their only previous meeting, earlier this year at the Volvo Car Open in Charleston. Sabalenka got past the loss of the second set from a break up to overcome 2016 Olympic champion Puig after an hour and 48 minutes of play. The Belarusian is into her first semifinal since reaching that stage at St. Petersburg in February.
Sabalenka said that Puig "actually played unbelievable [in Charleston], same like today. But today I have focus during the games, on each point, and that helped me to actually beat her, because she’s a great player."
Hard-hitting Sabalenka blasted 30 winners in the tilt, including nine aces, to just 22 unforced errors. Puig had 21 winners of her own but was undone by 37 unforced errors.
Sabalenka will face Ukrainian teenager Dayana Yastremska in the final four. No.6 seed Yastremska dispatched Frenchwoman Fiona Ferro, 6-1, 6-3, earlier on Friday. Yastremska won their only prior encounter in three sets, on the indoor hardcourts of St. Petersburg in 2017.
"I remember I played [Yastremska] two or three years ago, and it was a really tough match," said Sabalenka. "I’m looking forward to playing against her."
Sabalenka got off to a scintillating start, powering big deliveries to hold in the first game, and earning an immediate service break in the second game with a blistering backhand. The Belarusian did not let Puig halt her momentum in the subsequent game, saving two break points en route to a 3-0 lead.
Puig was forced into more errors by the Sabalenka power game, eventually dropping serve again to give the second seed a 5-1 lead. Sabalenka fired three service winners in the next game, including back-to-back aces in the final two points, to finish off the opening frame in 26 minutes.
Sabalenka claimed an early lead in the second set as well, using a huge return to convert her fifth break point of the opening game, then blasted a forehand winner right on the sideline to hold for 2-0. Puig then had to save break point in the next game before getting on the board at 2-1.
Suddenly, though, the second set started to turn. Puig broke for 2-2, and though Sabalenka broke again to lead 3-2, Puig broke back once more, leveling the set at 3-3 with a return winner. Huge serving gave the Puerto Rican game point in the next game, and she held with a backhand winner for 4-3, ending the run of service breaks.
Sabalenka then double faulted on break point in the next game, ceding a 5-3 lead to Puig. The 2014 Strasbourg champion took advantage of her good fortune, easing to a swift service hold and claiming the second set by winning six of the last seven games.
Nevertheless, Sabalenka rebounded in the decider. The Belarusian used a dropshot to force an error from Puig, which queued up triple break point at 2-1. Another error from the Puerto Rican gave Sabalenka the love break for a 3-1 lead, and the No.2 seed consolidated with an ace for 4-1.
Sabalenka broke Puig again to lead 5-1, and served for the match in that game, but hit two double faults in succession to hand back one break to the former Olympic champion. But that was only a minor stumbling block, as Sabalenka powered through the next game to break Puig once more and close out the victory.