Sabalenka beats Sakkari to reach first Indian Wells final

Australian Open winner Aryna Sabalenka defeated Maria Sakkari 6-2, 6-3 in a slugfest on Stadium Court on Friday to reach the final of the WTA and ATP Masters 1000 hard court tennis tournament in Indian Wells.

World number two Sabalenka, who took her 2023 WTA record to 17-1, scored her fifth win in eight encounters against the seventh-place Greek and awaits the winner of the second semi-final between world number one and Defending champion Iga Swiatek and Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.

This is a replay of the Australian Open fourth round match in which Rybakina stunned top seed Swiatek on her way to second place.

Sabalenka’s victory ensured a match between the reigning Grand Slam champions will take place in the final. Swiatek won both the French Open and the US Open last year.

“It sounds great either way,” said Sabalenka. “I would like to play against both of them.”

She said she was “super happy” to defeat a player she defeated in the group stage of the WTA Finals last year.

Playing with supreme confidence, Sabalenka opened with a quick service hold that included two aces and broke Sakkari 3-1.

Sakkari immediately broke back when Sabalenka made a double fault at the breakpoint. But the Belarusian won the next five games to bag the set and take a 2-0 lead in the second.

Sakkari, perhaps trying to overdo it in the face of Sabalenka’s powerful groundstrokes, made three forehand errors to hit her triple set point.

She saved two with a service winner and an ace, but fired another forehand out of court on the third.

Sabalenka rolled and broke Sakkari again with a searing backhand service that returned the line for a 2-0 lead in the second.

But she returned the break with a sloppy service game that was deflected by a noise from the crowd on serve.

Sakkari then held to level the set, but Sabalenka won three straight games and fended off a break point to level it at 3-2.

Sabalenka said she may have let the match escape in previous years, but she now plays with a renewed sense of calm.

“In the past I’ve lost so many matches along with some not super smart mistakes,” she said. “I reminded myself it’s okay to make these mistakes, I’m not a robot. I can miss those shots and that’s probably why I was able to keep fighting and keep trying.”

– It can happen –

Sakkari had two game points in a sixth game that resulted in four debuts.

She failed to convert, and Sabalenka drilled another service return winner for a third break chance of the game, which she grabbed with a crosscourt forehand.

Sabalenka ended the match with 21 wins over Sakkari’s nine when she denied Sakkari a return to the Indian Wells finals.

The game was delayed for more than half an hour due to an audio system malfunction on the Stadium Court, which affected chair umpire Pierre Bacchi’s microphone and the audio for the automatic hawk-eye line-calling system used throughout the tournament became.

“For a second I thought: Oops, something’s going wrong today,” said Sabalenka, who had to wait on the pitch with her opponent until a solution was found.

“But then I remind myself that that’s okay. Something like that can happen. I just need to calm down and relax somehow and wait for them to fix the system.”


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