Photo credit: @Tennis
By Marko Ukalovic
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Déjà vu doesn’t happen often, but for Maria Sakkari she tends to make a habit of it when she performs in San Jose. Down one set and one game away from being bounced in straight sets, the Greek freak made a remarkable comeback to defeat the number one seeded Elina Sviotlina 1-6 7-6 6-3 in quarterfinal action on Day 5 at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic on Thursday afternoon.
Last year at this same tournament Sakkari was in similar situation against Danielle Collins and fought her way back to win in the semi-finals. This time around she was down three games twice in the second (4-1 and 5-2) when she won four games in a row forcing Sviotlina to win the 12th game and the ensuing tiebreaker that Sakkari won 7-3 to prolong the match into the third set.
Sakkari cruised in the third winning it in 46 minutes to punch her ticket to the semi-finals where she will face Saisai Zheng.
“Maybe it’s something about this place,” said the 23-year-old Athens native about her comebacks in this tournament. “I really feel comfortable playing on the center court here. Really feels like home.”
Sakkari finished with seven aces on the day and 7/10 on first serve points won. She credits her serve as one of her main improvements from a year ago.
“My served has improved a lot,” said Sakkari. “I know today wasn’t one of my best hitting the ball, but my serve, my forehand is my weapon now when I was struggling (with them) I would say two years ago.”
In the first match of the day, number two seed Aryna Sabalenka rebounded from losing her first set of the match against number six seed Carla Suarez-Navarro to power her way into the semi-finals in a three-set victory 3-6 6-2 6-4. Despite serving up nine double faults, Sabalenka took control of the match in the second set and never looked back as she found her game to take down Suarez-Navarro.
The Croatian sensation that is Donna Vekic continued her winning ways in a straight sets victory over American Kristie Ahn in her quarterfinal matchup 7-5 6-0 that needed less than 90 minutes to complete. Vekic was down early in the first set 3-5 to Ahn who looked to be in control of the match. However, the native of Osijek, wouldn’t lose another game, going on a 10-game win streak to close out the match and into the semi-finals where she will take on Sabalenka.
“It’s easy to get carried away,” said Vekic when asked about being in a zone during the win streak. “I had to stay really focused and not take anything for granted. And really take one point at a time and not really think about the score.
Vekic finished with six aces, all in the second set, as her powerful serve was too much for Ahn to handle for most of the match. Vekic was also a perfect 9/9 in first service points won in the second set.
“I think I had quite a few aces today. It (my serve) was working really well for me. I had quite a lot of easy points as well and that’s always nice.”
In the night cap Zheng outlasted fourth seeded Amanda Anisimova in a three-set battle of the wills. Zheng won the opening set 7-5 when she would land some nice drop shots that Anisimova had little to no answers for.
Anisimova answered the call in the second set using a combination of forehand power shots with pin-point two-handed backhand shots to take the set 7-5 to even the match. However, she would pay a price for her effort as she had been suffering from an illness throughout the week. She was treated from her chair and then on the ground for 15 minutes before getting back up to start the final set.
“I have had a virus for the past couple of days and wasn’t feeling well today ,” said the 17-year old Anisimova. “I thought I needed a little help (to feel better)”. We both played very well. I think my opponent played super well. She got to almost every single ball, all the credit to her.”
With the score all evened at 4-4, Zheng was able to take control of the final two games as she took advantage of Anisimova’s ailment and won the set 6-4 and stamped her way to her first premiere level semi-final in her career. She will take on Sakkari in the first semi-final on Saturday.
“The whole match was very intense,” said Zheng. “I felt like I had to give a little bit more (than normal) until the end. It was really a tough match tonight.”