SAN JOSE, CA, USA - No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka was forced to fight back from a set down to overcome No.6 seed Carla Suárez Navarro 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in one hour and 53 minutes.
The Belarusian extended her hardcourt dominance over Suárez Navarro, having also defeated the Spaniard to in the final of New Haven last year to win her maiden title, as well as in the first round of Wuhan en route to her second title. As in the latter encounter, Sabalenka was put through her paces in a tough three-setter today, needing to overcome both canny play from her opponent and some severe service woes of her own, but ultimately cleaning up her own game in fine style.
The Shenzhen champion was seriously afflicted by double faults in the opening set: they were both plentiful and ill-timed, with three of her total of six coming down break point - including a final moment of frustration down set point. Suárez Navarro, meanwhile, was deploying fine use of angles in order to keep Sabalenka off balance and to impose her own game. Having broken for 3-1, the 30-year-old was also sharp enough to step up a level when Sabalenka threatened a comeback to level at 3-3: some brilliant forehand strikes regained the break for Suárez Navarro, a lead that saw her over the line.
But the World No.29 was unable to take her momentum into the second set, with her forehand going awry to concede an immediate break. That was all the encouragement Sabalenka needed: rejuvenated, the 21-year-old's power began clicking in spectacular fashion, with some redirected backhands down the line and no-holds-barred returning particular highlights.
Sabalenka would also prove better able to ride the ebbs and flows of the scoreboard from the second set onwards: though a 0-40 opportunity for the double break went begging and Suárez Navarro began to loom on return, Sabalenka simply bailed herself out with clutch serving - reducing her double fault tally all the way to zero. A game later, a swashbuckling net foray garnered the World No.10 the double break anyway - and when she closed the set out with her second ace, she raised her hands in part celebration and part relief.
That stood her in good stead for a deciding set that turned on a sequence of three consecutive breaks of serve at its beginning. Though Sabalenka's returning was rocking Suárez Navarro back on her heels, three double faults from her own racquet threatened a return of her first-set travails. But the blip was to be momentary: once Sabalenka had powered through another mammoth return to regain the break, there were to be no further double faults at all.
Indeed, the final seven games of the net would see both players dominate behind their serves for the first extended period of the match, with both hitting their spots and constructing points well. For Suárez Navarro, though, this would be too little too late, while over-eager aggression saw her squander the few opportunities she had on the Sabalenka serve to get back into the match.
Sabalenka, for her part, kept her focus: serving for the match, her final game was maybe her most impressive, finishing a love hold with a breathtaking redirected forehand winner to set up a semifinal against either No.5 seed Donna Vekic or qualifier Kristie Ahn.