Sabalenka Reaches Eighth 2021 Quarterfinal At Montreal

Aryna Sabalenka (photo: @OBNmontreal/Twitter)

MONTREAL/WASHINGTON, August 13, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

With both Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka, the number one and two-ranked players in the world absent from this week’s WTA 1000 Omnium Banque Nationale in Montreal, attention has shifted to World No. 3 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

On Thursday, the top-seeded Sabalenka needed just 59 minutes to become the first to reach the quarterfinal round after she ended the dream run of 220th-ranked Canadian wild card Rebecca Marino, 6-1, 6-3, on Centre Court at IGA Stadium. It’s the eighth time that Sabalenka has reached the quarterfinals or better this season on the WTA tour. Four of the eight have come on hard-court surfaces.

“I know you guys were more for her, but I could feel you were also a little bit with me,” Sabalenka playfully joked during her on-court interview after beating the sentimental favorite Marino.

Less than 24 hours after being pushed to three sets by American Sloane Stephens, in which she overcame a 1-4 final-set deficit, Sabalenka rebounded against Marino – winning five of the final six games of the match – and outpointed her 59-40 behind six aces,18 winners and converting four of eight break-point opportunities.

Next, Sabalenka, who is second on tour with 247 aces, will face fellow Belarusian Victoria Azarenka, seeded eighth, who beat No. 11 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2), in two hours and 36 minutes. Only three points (103-100) separated the two seeded competitors, but while Sakkari fired 35 winners she also committed 44 unforced errors. Each broke the other’s serve five times.

• Also advancing to Friday’s quarterfinals: No. 4 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, who beat 86th-ranked American qualifier Amanda Anisomova, 6-1, 7-6 (8). She will face No. 48 Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, who defeated No. 55 Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic, 6-7 (4), 6-0, 6-3, in two hours and 50 minutes and outpointed her opponent 102-84.

Finally, No. 13 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia defeated 2019 champion and No. 2 seed Bianca Andreescu of Canada, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-1, with 37 winners to her credit in a tough match that stretched to two hours and 38 minutes and included a lengthy rain delay. It’s the eighth time this year that Jabeur has come back to win after losing the first set. In the quarterfinals, she will face No. 30 Jessica Pegula, who won the all-American battle with No. 28 Danielle Collins 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 after two hours and 28 minutes.

Tsitsipas celebrates 23rd birthday with cake and a win

It’s been a memorable week for Stefanos Tsitsipas. On Monday, he surpassed Rafael Nadal as the new World No. 3 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. On Thursday, in the third round of the National Bank Open at Aviva Centre in Toronto, the No. 3 seed celebrated his 23rd birthday with a 6-3, 6-2 Stadium Court victory over Olympic silver medalist Karen Khachanov, whom he extended his unbeaten career head-to-head to 5-0.

It was the 177th career tour-level win for Tsitsipas and he was rewarded with a birthday cake following his on-court interview.

“Birthdays are the best,” Tsitsipas said in press. “Birthdays are the best, because people remember you, people send you nice presents and messages. It’s always a beautiful day when it’s your birthday.”

Tsitsipas came to this week’s ATP Masters 1000 tournament in search of his third title of the season, following his first ATP Masters 1000 crown at Monte-Carlo and a title victory in Lyon. Now, he will face No. 6 seed Casper Ruud of Norway, who defeated No 44 Dusan Lajovic of Serbia, 6-4, 6-3, for his 14th straight victory. Rudd has won three straight tournaments and hasn’t lost since the first round of Wimbledon.

Khachanov had compilied an 11-2 win-loss record since the beginning of Wimbledon – including a string of five straight wins at the Tokyo Olympics – and in Toronto, he’d beaten Los Cabos titlist Cameron Norrie and Dubai champion Aslan Karatsev. However, Tsitsipas won 93 percent (25 of 27) of the first serves he put into play, hit five aces and 18 winners, and saved the only two break points he faced while also converting three of six break points.

“It’s not that I put goals depending on my age,” Tsitsipas said. “I set goals every year regardless of what my age is. Within that year I try and, you know, just put my attention to these goals that I have set.

“So far, most of my goals have been completed, and, you know, I still have a few months to go to complete 100 percent all of my goals. That pumps me up. I feel like I’m very close. I feel like I have what it takes to finish the year strong.

“I’m not really thinking about much. I’m playing tennis, and that’s enough.”

• Also advancing to Friday’s quarterfinals: No. 1 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia, who beat 85th-ranked Australian qualifier James Duckworth in back of 10 aces and 20 winners. Next, he will face No. 7 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, who pulled out a 6-7 (7), 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 42 Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia. Plus, No. 30 John Isner of the United States advanced with an upset of No. 4 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia, 7-5, 7-6 (5), in back of 10 aces and 29 winners. Next, Isner plays No. 11 seed Gaël Monfils of France, who easily beat 52nd-ranked American lucky loser Frances Tiafoe, 6-1, 7-6 (2). It’s Monfils’ first quarterfinal in 18 months and it will be the 13th time Isner and Monfils have faced one another.

Finally, No. 10 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain fought off three match points and came back to beat No. 8 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5. He will face 32nd-ranked American Reilly Opelka, who beat No. 49 Lloyd Harris of South Africa, 4-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4), in two hours and 45 minutes. Each struck 21 aces.

Breakthrough win for Konta over Svitolina

Great Britain’s Johanna Konta, a three-time major semifinalist, played her first matches in six weeks in Montreal this week after winning a grass-court title at Nottingham in June. Things were beginning to look up for her. After all, she was forced to withdraw from Wimbledon, where she was supposed to be the No. 27 seed, as a close contact when a member of her team tested positive for COVID-19. Then, she tested positive a few days later and missed the Olympic Games.

“Definitely the worst illness I’ve experienced for a very long time,” Konta, 30, who is currently ranked 41st and has been ranked as high as No. 4, told Associated Press tennis writer Howard Fendrich this week.

“It was very heartbreaking and it was very difficult. There was nothing good and nothing fun about having COVID and having to miss Wimbledon and the Olympics. There’s just no way around that.

“However, I consider myself quite a happy person, quite a positive person, and definitely a pragmatic person, and I like to practice perspective in all the good things I do have in my life. So I had to definitely utilize those toos. And at the end of the day, I looked at my life and everything’s OK … and I just tried to draw energy from there and looked forward to when i could start training and get back out onto the match court.”

After beating Olympic bronze medalist and No. 3 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine for the first time on Wednesday, Konta said: “I think the most important thing is to play with what you have and keep trying to find the little bits that you can do better during the match.”

Svitolina, who won the National Bank Open title at Montreal in 2017, entered the second-round match with a 5-0 career head-to-head against Konta However, the British No. 1 rallied for a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory to move into Thursday’s third round against No. 15 seed Coco Gauff.

Unfortunately, a left knee injury forced Konta to withdraw from her match against Gauff before taking Centre Court at IGA Stadium and it advanced Gauff into Friday’s quarterfinals against Camila Giorgi. The 71st-ranked Italian upset No. 7 seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-4.

Thursday’s National Bank Open – Toronto men’s results 

Thursday’s National Bank Open – Montreal women’s results 

Friday’s National Bank Open – Toronto order of play

Friday’s National Bank Open – Montreal order of play

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By the numbers

John Isner, Reilly Opelka and Frances Tiafoe gave the United States three players in the National Bank Open third round for the first time since 2016. The last American trio to reach the National Bank Open quarterfinals came at Montreal in 1999 with Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Todd Martin.

• Four American women reached the third round of the National Bank Open in Montreal: No. 15 seed Coco Gauff, Danielle Collins, Jessica Pegula and Amanda Anisimova.

“Quotable …”

“Honestly, I just feel really lucky. Dealing with the physical stuff today after playing a lot of matches, it wasn’t easy. It definitely got the best of me physically and emotionally. So, just being able to hang in there, just really proud to be able to pull through.”

– American Danielle Collins has strung together 12 straight victories and won back-to-back titles in Palermo and San Jose. On Wednesday evening, she defeated World No. 13 and sixth-seeded Simona Halep, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, in the Romanian’s first competition since Rome in May.

“Casper is a player that has been developing very good recently. He had an amazing clay-court season. He’s someone that serves very well, has a very good serve-and-first-ball pattern that works really well for him. I think he’s probably one of the best players out there to have the serve and first ball inside the three first shots that he hits.

“It’s definitely something that I’m going to have to pay attention to, and apply more pressure towards that.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas, on his upcoming quarterfinal match against Casper Ruud, who has won each of the past three tournaments he’s played in.

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