Sabalenka cruises into third final of season at Indian Wells
No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka moved into her third final of the season with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over last year’s runner-up, No.7 seed Maria Sakkari, in the BNP Paribas Open semifinals.
Sakkari had beaten Sabalenka in their last two clashes, which came in the group stages at the WTA Finals in both 2021 and 2022. But Sabalenka prevailed in 1 hour and 23 minutes in the Californian desert on Friday, increasing her head-to-head lead over Sakkari to 5-3.
On to the final: Sabalenka will face either defending champion Iga Swiatek or reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina for the title on Sunday. A meeting with Rybakina would be a rematch of this year’s Australian Open final, where Sabalenka triumphed in a tight three-setter to win her first Grand Slam singles title.
Sabalenka is an undefeated 4-0 in her previous WTA 1000 finals, with her most recent WTA 1000 title coming at Madrid in 2021. Sabalenka had lost her last three WTA 1000 semifinals before grabbing this victory over Sakkari.
Another victory: Sabalenka has compiled a 17-1 win-loss record this season, and she has lost only five sets in her 18 matches this year. Sabalenka is now tied with Caroline Garcia (17-7) for the most WTA main-draw match-wins in 2023. Sabalenka has also won five of her last six matches against Top 10 opposition.
A victory in the final would make Sabalenka the first player to win three titles in 2023, having prevailed at the Australian Open and Adelaide International 1. Belinda Bencic (Adelaide International 2 and Abu Dhabi champion) is the only player other than Sabalenka to have won two titles this season.
Key moments: Sabalenka used aggressive returns to crack open a closely contested first set, breaking Sakkari three times in succession to wrap up the one-set lead. Sakkari saved the first two set points she faced with unreturned serves, but she sent a forehand out of court on Sabalenka’s third opportunity.
The second set was defined by the 3-2 game, which went to deuce four times and saw Sakkari hold two game points. But Sabalenka slammed a backhand service return winner down the line to earn her third break point of that game, which she converted with a winning forehand that clipped the sideline.
Sabalenka finished the match with 21 winners to Sakkari’s nine, converting five of her ten break points.
More to come…