The final two matches on Sunday’s schedule in Abu Dhabi saw the top two seeds, Sofia Kenin and Elina Svitolina, save match points to advance to the quarter-finals. Both were rather tortuous matches which are included in this post. I think Hsieh-Kostyuk has probably been my favourite match of the week so far. Read on for the highlights from third round action at the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open.
(9) Maria Sakkari d. (5) Garbiñe Muguruza, 7-5 6-4
The most attractive match-up on Sunday’s schedule was a first time meeting between Maria Sakkari and Garbiñe Muguruza. I expected it to be close and it was. What I didn’t expect was that Sakkari would hit more than six times the number of winners than Muguruza!
Sakkari deserved to win because she was the much more positive player. I mentioned Sakkari’s serve in yesterday’s post and it was the real star of the show. While it did get her into trouble at the start, more importantly it also got her out of trouble. Sakkari served 11 aces, many of them down break point. In particular, the serve down the tee on the Ad serve was working a treat at the end of the match. Sakkari has come on leaps and bounds in terms of being more aggressive. Her forehand was such a weapon in this match and I lost count of the winners she hit off that wing.
While another committed display, Muguruza was very passive. Her performance was all at one level as she pretty much stayed rooted to the baseline, showing very little intent to move up the court. You’re not going to win a match with five winners. Muguruza fascinates me. She gives so little away with her body language and I just can’t work her out!
(1) Sofia Kenin d. (13) Yulia Putintseva, 3-6 7-6(5) 6-4
This was a classic Kenin match as she laid down yet another marker that she is one of the most mentally tough players on the WTA tour. Mediocre for a set and a half, Kenin found her game in the nick of time as she saved a match point when Putintseva served for the upset leading 6-3 *6-5. When it really counted, Kenin found the rhythm on her groundstrokes. Kenin won the second set with a gorgeous backhand winner down-the-line that was plum in the corner. Pure class.
I don’t think Kenin’s played anywhere near her best tennis at this tournament but she found a way to win against Poots and is into the last eight.
(2) Elina Svitolina d. (17) Ekaterina Alexandrova, 6-2 6-7(5) 7-6(8)
I’d like to put my nomination in for the worst match of 2021 so far 😂. I’ll admit though that the third set tiebreak was rather thrilling! Having endured the match up till then, I felt strangely invested in the final set tiebreak to see who would actually win. It’s quite a feat that Alexandrova got to within one point of the win because she couldn’t find the court in the first set. Alexandrova played with such small margins and was just woeful (2 winners to 15 unforced errors). Alexandrova did improve markedly from the second set onwards. I think Svitolina got a little complacent because Alexandrova was so poor early doors. They both seemed to bring each other’s level down!
Both players had their opportunities to win before the third set tiebreak. Svitolina failed to serve out the match at *5-4 in the second set. Alexandrova failed to serve out the match at *5-4 in the third set. Alexandrova then missed two match points in the third set tiebreak. It was what we’ve come to expect from Svitolina as she retreated behind the baseline and her groundstrokes were landing short. Unfortunately, it was also what we’ve come to expect from Alexandrova as she tightened up when serving for the match. In the end, a win is a win for Elina…
(6) Elena Rybakina d. Daria Kasatkina, 6-3 6-4
I’ve missed watching Elena Rybakina. This was the best ball striking i’ve seen all week. Rybakina’s groundstrokes are so pure and the sound off the racquet is just 😍. Rybakina played an ultra-aggressive match. She did have some erratic moments but she overpowered Kasatkina and was almost untouchable on serve. Rybakina has won 26 of 28 service games so far this week.
I thought Kasatkina played an OK match. A year or 18 months ago this would have been a 1 and 1 loss. I thought Dasha competed well. She seemed to twig mid second set that getting the ball to bounce higher was an effective tactic. Kasatkina was unable to consistently get the ball out of Rybakina’s strike zone. Just too good from Rybakina.
Hot shot 🔥
As mentioned above, Kenin’s set point conversion in the second set tiebreak was awesome. So clutch!
Funny moment 🤣
Oh Aryna. At least she could laugh about it!
Top tweet 🦅
Loved this from Angie.
Press conference 📰
Following on from yesterday’s round-up of Kostyuk-Hsieh, really enjoyed hearing Kostyuk’s take of the match.
QF watchlist 📺
Aryna Sabalenka vs. Elena Rybakina: A big hitter’s paradise. I have a feeling it’s going to be one of those tournaments where I predict against Sabalenka every match and she goes onto win the tournament 😂. I’m really pleased to see Sabalenka continue her 2020 end-of-season form. I am going to go for Rybakina though.
Sofia Kenin vs. Maria Sakkari: Kenin leads Sakkari, 2-0 in their H2H with a pair of three set wins in 2018. I had Sakkari reaching the final in my Draw Challenge… I must also add that I had Jen Brady winning the tournament! Kenin’s not at her best yet but the win over Putintseva was a huge mental victory. I’m going to stick with Sakkari because of how well she has been serving in the crux moments.