Ninth seed Aryna Sabalenka has fought off a stern challenge from Saisai Zheng in the Qatar Total Open, claiming a 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3 victory in the quarterfinals. The Belarusian was pushed to three sets for the second time this week and will face two-time Doha finalist Svetlana Kuznetsova in the semifinals.
Sabalenka battles past fiesty opponent to book spot in last four
Sabalenka was the first to apply pressure. After a love hold, she held three break points in the first service game of Zheng, but the Chinese did well to save all three, including a pair of winners. Breaks were traded midway through the set and at 3-3, the duo engaged in a 16 point game that ended when Sabalenka flubbed a backhand into the net.
The windy conditions seemed to be helping Zheng and after a confident hold, she was at triple set point. Sabalenka saved the first with a backhand down the line for a winner, but a double fault on the second handed the Chinese the opening set. Breaks were traded in the third and fourth games of the second set to put the score at 2-2.
A potentially dangerous moment arose after the ninth seed dumped a backhand into the net to bring up break point for Zheng, but her own missed backhand allowed Sabalenka to escape with a hold. The remainder of the set saw no more chances for either player and a tiebreaker would decide it.
The tone was set right away when Zheng missed on a forehand and Sabalenka raced out to a 4-1 advantage and although she would give one of the minibreaks back, the ninth seed cruised through the next three points, culminating in a backhand crosscourt driven through the wind met without reply to level the match at one set all.
Zheng recovered quickly and broke to open the third set with some solid defense and a backhand winner, changing the direction of the ball beautifully. The Chinese held steady, going ahead 3-1 only to watch a furious comeback by Sabalenka. She broke in the sixth game when Zheng faltered on a backhand to draw even, held to love to go ahead and was in front once more after the Chinese missed on a forehand chip.
Serving for the match at 5-3, Sabalenka raced out to a 40-0 lead and hammered an ace down the middle on match point that was challenged but upheld to seal a hard-fought victory in two hours, 22 minutes.