Sabalenka beats Sakkari to reach first Indian Wells final
Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka beat Maria Sakkari 6-2, 6-3 in a Stadium Court slugfest on Friday to reach the final of the Indian Wells WTA and ATP Masters 1000 hard court tennis tournament.
World number two Sabalenka, who took her 2023 WTA record to 17-1, notched her fifth win in eight meetings against the seventh-seeded Greek and awaits the winner of the second semi-final between world number one and defending champion Iga Swiatek and Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.
That's a rematch of the Australian Open fourth round match in which Rybakina stunned top-seeded Swiatek on her way to a runner-up finish.
Sabalenka's win ensured the final will feature a match-up of reigning Grand Slam champions. Swiatek won both the French and US Opens last year.
"It sounds great both ways," Sabalenka said. "I would like to play both of them."
She said she was "super happy" with the victory over a player that beat her in the WTA Finals group stage last year.
Playing with supreme confidence, Sabalenka opened with a quick service hold that featured two aces and broke Sakkari for a 3-1 lead.
Sakkari immediately broke back as Sabalenka double-faulted on break point. But the Belarusian won the next five games to pocket the set and take a 2-0 lead in the second.
Sakkari, perhaps trying to do too much in the face of Sabalenka's powerful groundstrokes, made three forehand errors to give her triple set point.
She saved two with a service winner and an ace but fired another forehand out of the court on the third.
Sabalenka was rolling, breaking Sakkari again with a blistering backhand service return up the line for a 2-0 lead in the second.
But she gave the break back with a sloppy service game, distracted on one serve by a sound from the crowd.
Sakkari then held to level the set, but Sabalenka steadied to win three straight games -- fending off a break point to make it 3-2.
Sabalenka said she might have let the match get away in past years, but she's playing now with a new sense of calm.
"In past I lost so many matches like that, just like a few not super-smart mistakes," she said. "I was reminding myself it's OK to make these mistakes, I'm not a robot. I can miss these shots and probably that's why I was able to keep fighting and keep trying."
- Stuff can happen -
Sakkari had two game points in a sixth game that went to deuce four times.
She couldn't convert, and Sabalenka drilled another service return winner for a third break chance of the game which she seized with a crosscourt forehand.
Sabalenka finished the match with 21 winners to Sakkari's nine as she denied Sakkari a return to the Indian Wells final.
The match was delayed for more than half an hour because of a malfunction of the audio system on Stadium Court, which affected the microphone of chair umpire Pierre Bacchi and the sound for the Hawk-Eye automatic line calling system in use for the entire tournament.
"For a second I was thinking 'Oops, something is going wrong today," said Sabalenka, who had to wait around on court with her opponent as a solution was sought.
"But then I remind myself that that's OK. Stuff like that can happen. I just have to kind of calm down myself and relax and wait till they fix the system."