It’s been a breakthrough season for 23-year-old Czech Karolina Muchova – can Aryna Sabalenka end it in Saturday’s WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai semifinals?
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World no. 14 Aryna Sabalenka aims to make the fourth final of her season at the WTA Elite Trophy as she takes on Karolina Muchova in Zhuhai.
Both Sabalenka and Muchova went unbeaten in their groups to reach the semifinals in Zhuhai, but there is even less margin for error now: The defeated player will officially end their 2019 singles season (although Sabalenka is still scheduled to play next week’s WTA Finals Shenzhen doubles draw with Elise Mertens).
It was Mertens who Sabalenka defeated to reach the semifinals in Zhuhai, after having defeated Maria Sakkari earlier in the week. The Belarusian failed to get out of her group on her first appearance in 2018 after going 1-1 in the round-robin, and her match against her doubles partner was an extremely hard-fought one on Friday, with Sabalenka taking two hours and 20 minutes to clinch a 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 victory. After they split sets, Sabalenka was up a break three times in the third set and served for the match twice before managing to close out the win.
‘It was a really great match today, [Mertens] played really great, and it was a really great level, and I think I was a little bit more lucky in the last few games,’ the Belarusian said afterwards, admitting she was sorry to have been drawn into the same group with Mertens in Zhuhai.
‘And I really am happy to be on the same side next week, it’s going to be good, I think, and I just can’t wait to play with her against some girls.’
Sabalenka is trying to make her fourth final of the season in Zhuhai, with two of the previous three also coming on Chinese soil: In Shenzhen in January, when Sabalenka beat Alison Riske in the final, and in Wuhan just a few weeks ago when Sabalenka shook off a difficult season to successfully defend her Premier-5 title, beating Kiki Bertens, Ashleigh Barty and Riske again on the way. The exception was in San Jose, where Sabalenka finished runner-up to Zheng Saisai at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic.
It’s been a breakthrough season for 23-year-old Muchova, who started the season ranked world no. 144 but came into Zhuhai as the world no. 26. After successfully qualifying for the Australian Open, Doha (where she made the quarterfinals) and Miami, Muchova broke into the top 100 after reaching her maiden WTA Tour final in Prague, finishing runner-up to Jill Teichmann. Then came Wimbledon, where she really made an impact, putting together an unexpected but brilliant run to the quarterfinals and ousting Karolina Pliskova en route.
Muchova went on to make the third round of the US Open, win her maiden title in Seoul and reach the semifinals in Moscow, establishing a 35-13 win-loss record and sealing her spot in Zhuhai.
The Czech has brought her momentum from Moscow, where she defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ekaterina Alexandrova and Donna Vekic, to Zhuhai where she’s scored hard-fought three-set wins over seventh seed Alison Riske 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 on Thursday and Sofia Kenin 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 on Friday. The margins were narrow against Kenin but Muchova, despite definitely starting to show signs of fatigue, edged past with slightly better serving – she crucially won a higher proportion of points on her second serve than the American, and her first-serve stats were just that degree sharper – and a better-executed attacking game, ending with 33 winners and 15 unforced errors to Kenin’s 31 and 26 respectively.
This will be the first meeting between Sabalenka and Muchova, and certainly Sabalenka will pose a very different challenge to Muchova than the counterpunching Kenin. Sabalenka relies on raw, explosive power from the baseline and aggressive serving and returning, and it’s notable that she passed the test of hitting through Mertens’s defense on Friday. Muchova, an attacking player herself, is not likely to make Sabalenka hit so many balls, and that plays into the Belarusian’s hands somewhat. While everybody is a bit ragged at the end of the season, I thought Sabalenka looked fresher despite the grueling nature of her win over Mertens, and she should have the physical advantage as well in Saturday’s semifinals. Look for the Belarusian to reach her fourth final of 2019 on Saturday.
Sabalenka vs Muchova WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai tennis is live from Zhuhai on Saturday at 4.30pm local/9.30am BST
Sabalenka vs Muchova tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Sabalenka targets fourth final of 2019 in Zhuhai
It’s been a breakthrough season for 23-year-old Czech Karolina Muchova – can Aryna Sabalenka end it in Saturday’s WTA Elite…
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