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Sabalenka fights back to enter Nature Valley International final

Rudy Martinez
ANALYST
Feature
68   //    30 Jun 2018, 02:25 IST

TENNIS-GBR-ATP-EASTBOURNE

Agnieszka Radwanska met her match at the Nature Valley International Friday afternoon. The Polish star who had a solid run through the tournament saw it come to an end due to a hard fight from Aryna Sabalenka who overcame a devasting second set to win 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 on centre court at Devonshire Park. It was her first appearance in a WTA premier event winning four amazing matches in the tournament.

The match was an important moment for the young Belorussian as she inched closer to appearing in her third WTA final. With one under her belt and nearly getting by Sharapova earlier this season, a win over Radwanska would go a long way to set up a big premier WTA moment for the 20-year-old.

While she had no experience against the Polish tennis veteran on the tour, getting an edge against her would be essential to setting herself in position to dictate. The world number 31 has returned and showed her fierce power of taking control of a match at any moment and not letting go. With a lot to prove before Monday’s start of Wimbledon, the 29-year-old wanted to add her first WTA title of the season but had to get through Sabalenka to do it.

She opened the match with a break of the Belorussian before getting another to lead early. Sabalenka answered with a strong response leveling the score at two-all before she stayed with her opponent through six.

She broke through in the seventh getting the edge needed over the 29-year-old, dictating the next three games that gave her a solid finish after 43 minutes of play. While she had the most errors of the two (17) her 25 winners made up for the three double faults and edging Radwanska on break points was also a key to success.

Sabalenka couldn’t flow it into the second set after breaking Radwanska in the opening game losing the next three in a row. She had trouble getting the serves running the way she wanted making it easy for Radwanska to control both sides of the game. It was quickly 4-1 for the Polish star who had a beat down of Sabalenka’s confidence that frustrated the 20-year-old.

On serve in the sixth, she tried to reel in her offense on deuce but made errors at the wrong times opening the door. On a fourth break point attempt, Radwanska secured the win taking her winning streak to five games. She served out the set with ease making it another difficult day for Sabalenka as she was forced to play a third set for her fifth match in a row.

The set lasted 33 minutes with the Belorussian clearly losing focus lowering the number of winners with the unforced errors (17) being too much. Radwanska had only two in the set with just five winners but with the serve at 72 percent, the 29-year-old opened the third with comfort to dictate at any moment.

Sabalenka knew that she had to defend every point in the final set to find a way to pull off a win against the surging star of the sport. She had control through her first two service games but the third went into the hands of Radwanska gaining the first break of the set. She thought she had the set in her grasp at 40-0, but an attack from Sabalenka included three winners that forced deuce before earning the breakpoint.

The 20-year-old fought every point to stay tight through six but a surge from her game arrived holding in the seventh before breaking the veteran in the eighth. It gave her the shot at serving for the match coming back from 0-30 down to force deuce for herself. She had errors show up but tried to wrinkle them out earing a chance on her first advantage point. She took it with a volley response that saw Radwanska hit it a little too hard landing behind the baseline.

The match came to a close after 1 hour and 55 minutes finishing with 54 winners despite having 45 errors and six double faults. “I just tried to stay focused because I lost my focus after the first set,” Sabalenka said after the match. “I’ve played 15 sets in four days so I lost my focus and tried to put the ball in and go crazy for every shot and that was a key.”

With all that time on court under her belt, she would need to find the energy to go for it all facing Caroline Wozniacki on Saturday in the . “it’s gonna be a good experience for my tomorrow to play against really tough players and will be interesting.”


Do you think Aryna Sabalenka can win the Nature Valley International? Tell us in the comments below!

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Rudy Martinez
ANALYST
A writer with eight years experience in sportswriting. He specializes in the National Hockey League, WTA Tennis and both summer and winter Olympic sports.
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