Fixture: (4) Aryna Sabalenka vs (9) Maria Sakkari
Date: 12 January 2021
Tournament: Abu Dhabi WTA Women's Tennis Open 2021
Venue: Abu Dhabi, UAE
Category: WTA 500
Surface: Outdoor hardcourt
Prize money: $565,530
Match timing: 2.30 pm local time, 4 pm IST
Live telecast: USA - ESPN / Tennis Channel
Aryna Sabalenka vs Maria Sakkari preview
Sabalenka faced her toughest challenge yet in the quarters as she took on the sixth seed Elena Rybakina, who had been solid all week. The young Kazakh did take a set off the Belarusian for the second match in a row, but Sabalenka still found a way to win.
With her 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Rybakina, the World No. 10 reached her third consecutive semifinal; she had triumphed at Ostrava and Linz to end the 2020 season. Sabalenka's winning streak now stands at a career-best 13, and she looks hungry for more.
Monday was the first time this week she conceded a set on the fast courts of Abu Dhabi. But that couldn't deter her as she found another gear to break Rybakina in the decider and march into the last four.
World No. 22 Maria Sakkari meanwhile couldn't have asked for a better start to the new season herself. The Greek has been striking the ball big and has accounted for talented teenager Coco Gauff, fifth seed Garbine Muguruza and No. 1 seed Sofia Kenin on her way to the semis.
A day after ousting the two-time Grand Slam winner Muguruza, Sakkari refused to show any complacency against the reigning Australian Open champion Kenin. Even a disastrous start couldn't throw her off track.
After getting pummeled in the opening set, Sakkari quickly regained her bearings to storm back and take the match 2-6, 6-2, 6-0. The 25-year-old rode on 23 winners to record her fifth top 5 victory, and her first-ever win over Kenin.
Aryna Sabalenka vs Maria Sakkari head-to-head
Aryna Sabalenka leads Maria Sakkari 3-1 in the head-to-head record. The Greek won their very first encounter at Cincinnati in 2019, when she edged Sabalenka in three sets.
But since then the Belarusian has taken an upper hand in the rivalry, winning their next three meetings - including two in the Middle East. Their last face-off happened in the Round of 16 at Doha last year, where Sabalenka swatted aside Sakkari 6-3, 6-0.
Aryna Sabalenka vs Maria Sakkari prediction
Both women play an aggressive brand of tennis, relying on their powerful groundstrokes to paint the lines. But Maria Sakkari has better footwork, and also holds an edge over Aryna Sabalenka in the serve department. Against Kenin, Sakkari fired nine aces which ultimately helped her come back into the match.
In contrast, Sabalenka leaked five double faults and produced just four aces against Rybakina. The Belarusian can't afford to keep having lapses like she did in the second set against the Kazakh on Monday.
That said, Sakkari is not one of the most consistent players around. Her high unforced error count has often been her undoing, and Sabalenka will look to capitalize on that as she eyes a third consecutive title.
Prediction: Aryna Sabalenka to win in three sets.Published 11 Jan 2021, 18:24 IST