WTA Doha: Aryna Sabalenka rallies past Saisai Zheng to reach semifinals
Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos

Ninth seed Aryna Sabalenka has fought off a stern challenge from Saisai Zheng in the Qatar Total Openclaiming 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.

Zheng took advantage of the windy conditions to win the first set/Photo: Desn Mouhtaropoulos
Zheng took advantage of the windy conditions to win the first set/Photo: Desn Mouhtaropoulos

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.

Sabalenka is into her second semifinal of 2020/Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos
Sabalenka is into her second semifinal of 2020/Photo: Karim Jafaar 

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.

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