Karolina Pliskova roared back to win the power battle against Aryna Sabalenka and book a first appearance in a Wimbledon final where she will face Ash Barty.

Thursday's second semi-final lived up to its billing as a clash of two of the WTA's most ferocious competitors, and it was eighth seed Pliskova who triumphed 5-7 6-4 6-4 on Centre Court.

There were 32 aces in total in a match where long rallies were scarce. Ultimately, though, it was Pliskova's supreme consistency – she gave up just one break-point opportunity – that won the day.

Sabalenka offered up eight break-point chances alone in a fierce first set, but Pliskova barely had a sniff on any of those as textbook power serving from her opponent kept the Czech at bay.

Conversely, Pliskova sailed through her own service games with ease until trailing 6-5 when, after an exquisite sequence from Sabalenka brought up a first break point, she blinked with a double fault to cede the opening set.

Undeterred, the turning point came in game five of the second set when Pliskova broke to love before consolidating with three straight aces and Sabalenka going long.

Having won that only break point of the second set, Pliskova stole the advantage in game one of the decider as a couple of Sabalenka errors were followed by a backhand into the net.

To her credit, second seed Sabalenka forced Pliskova to serve out for the match, which she did somewhat fittingly with a mammoth ace.

 

Data slam: More aces than a playing card factory

Pliskova's consistency on serve was always likely to be crucial to her chances of victory in a battle between two real power hitters. Prior to this semi-final she led the way for aces (40) in the tournament and had only been broken three times. Here she was out-aced 18 to 14 but had a slightly better first-serve points won percentage (78 to 75) and significantly better on the second-serve points won (69 to 48). In a match where opportunities were always likely to be at a premium, it proved significant.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Pliskova – 32/17
Sabalenka – 38/20

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Pliskova – 14/4
Sabalenka – 18/4

BREAK POINTS WON

Pliskova – 2/10
Sabalenka – 1/1

Karolina Pliskova stormed in her first Wimbledon semi-final with an emphatic straight-sets defeat of Viktorija Golubic.

Pliskova had never been beyond the fourth round at the All England Club before this week, but the eighth seed marched into the last four with a 6-2 6-2 victory on Tuesday.

The Czech dominated the unseeded Golubic, playing her first grand slam quarter-final, to secure a meeting with Aryna Sabalenka or Ons Jabeur at SW19.

Pliskova, eyeing a maiden major title at the age of 29, produced an exemplary display with rain crashing down on the roof of No.1 Court and has only failed to hold serve three times in her five matches en route to the last four.

Golubic showed great fight to hold in the fourth game, demonstrating her majestic single-handed backhand to save a break point and following that up with a glorious forehand winner.

Pliskova's serve was proving to be a potent weapon once again and she was a break up at 4-2 following an overhead smash that clipped the net cord before dropping in.

The former world number one was in command, hardly putting a foot wrong as she took the opening set in 32 minutes, with Golubic drilling a forehand long following a double fault.

Pliskova held to love in a flash in the opening game of the second set and showcased deft footwork, power and precision to win a thrilling rally before her 66-ranked opponent overcooked a backhand to go 2-0 down.

A rasping return from world number 13 raised the roof when she showed a potent combination of anticipation, agility and skill to race forward and steer away a magnificent cross-court backhand winner.

Golubic got on the board at 3-1 and had three break points in a lengthy game before Pliskova's serve got her out of trouble to move into a 5-2 lead and the Swiss was on her way out after failing to hold in the next game.

 

Data slam: Pliskova serving up strong challenge

Pliskova's venomous serve has always been a dangerous weapon and she produced another exhibition, serving eight aces.

She has not dropped a set in the tournament and Golubic was unable to secure a break. Pliskova only lost six points behind her first serve, laying the foundations for a commanding win.

 

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Pliskova – 28/19
Golubic – 10/16

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Pliskova – 8/3
Golubic – 0/3

BREAK POINTS WON

Pliskova– 4/10
Golubic – 0/3

After an enforced hiatus in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, tennis returns to SW19.

Novak Djokovic makes his way back to Wimbledon as the defending champion and with the men's grand slam record firmly in his sight.

Djokovic conquered Rafael Nadal en route to French Open glory and his 19th slam crown – one shy of the record shared by rivals Nadal and Roger Federer.

With Nadal and Dominic Thiem absent, Djokovic's path to a 20th major trophy has opened up in London.

The women's title is up for grabs after holder Simona Halep withdrew, and Serena Williams can still dream of making history.

As all eyes shift to the All England Club, Stats Perform looks at the numbers behind this year's slam, using Opta data.

 

Dominant Djokovic

World number one and top seed Djokovic begins his title defence against promising Briton Jack Draper in the first round.

French Open champion Djokovic has won four of the last six Wimbledon tournaments, including each of the past two – the last player to win more at Wimbledon in a row was Federer between 2003 and 2007 (five).

A five-time Wimbledon winner, Djokovic is the only man to have won the first two grand slam tournaments of a calendar year over the last 25 years, doing it in 2016 and 2021. The last man to win the first three grand slams of a calendar year was Rod Laver during his Grand Slam in 1969.

The 2019 Wimbledon final was the first slam decider to be decided by a final set tie-break, with Djokovic beating Federer 7-3 in that tiebreak, while it was also the longest final in Wimbledon history (four hours, 57 minutes).

No man has won Roland Garros and Wimbledon in the same year since Nadal in 2010.

 

Federer farewell?

The curtain appears to be closing on all-time great Federer, who withdrew from the French Open after a draining four-set win over Dominik Koepfer to preserve his body for the grass season.

This year's Wimbledon could be the 39-year-old's final realistic shot at a grand slam as Djokovic bids to become the greatest of all.

Seeded sixth, Federer – who meets Adrian Mannarino first up – has won the most Wimbledon titles among all male players in the slam's history.

Federer will aim to win his 21st grand slam, which would break a tie with Nadal for the outright men's record.

 

The 'Big Four' and their stranglehold

Injuries have forced two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray to fall out of the equation but there has been no getting past the original 'Big Four'.

Among the men, the last 17 years of Wimbledon has been dominated by the same four players – Federer (eight titles), Djokovic (five), Nadal (two), Murray (two). The last winner at Wimbledon before them was Lleyton Hewitt in 2002.

Since Wimbledon in 2004, only one of the 68 slams has not seen at least one of Federer, Djokovic and Nadal in the semi-finals – it was at the US Open last year.

The new generation is headlined by grand slam runners-up Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Medvedev has never passed the third round at Wimbledon, though his two defeats at that stage have both been in five sets. The Russian second seed has reached at least the quarter-finals in three of his last four major tournaments, after reaching that stage in only one of his previous 13.

Beaten by Djokovic in the Roland Garros final, Tsitsipas has reached the semi-finals in his last three slams, having done so only once in his previous 12. The third seed has never reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, however.

Wimbledon is the only slam where fourth seed Alexander Zverev is yet to reach the quarter-final, his best result being a fourth-round performance in 2017. Since the beginning of 2020, he has advanced to the semi-finals in three slam tournaments, after never doing it in his previous 18 such major main-draw appearances.

 

Serena's ongoing quest

The queen of WTA tennis for so long, Serena Williams is one slam success away from matching Margaret Court's record of 24 major singles championships. But the 39-year-old has been stuck on 23 since reigning supreme at the Australian Open in 2017.

Williams, who lost in the French Open fourth round, has won seven Wimbledon titles (level with Steffi Graf) – only Martina Navratilova has more in the Open Era (nine).

American superstar Williams has been a Wimbledon runner-up in 2018 and 2019. Chris Evert is the only player in the Open Era to have lost three consecutive Wimbledon finals (between 1978 and 1980).

Williams, the sixth seed who will clash with Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the opening round, is looking to become only the second woman to win 100 Wimbledon singles matches (currently 98), alongside Navratilova (120). She could also become the first woman to reach 100-plus wins in two different majors (106 wins at the US Open).

From the first Wimbledon final reached by one Williams sister in 2000 (won by Venus against Lindsay Davenport), only in four of 20 editions has neither of the two sisters reached the decider – in 2006 (Amelie Mauresmo-Justine Henin), 2011 (Petra Kvitova-Maria Sharapova), 2013 (Marion Bartoli-Sabine Lisicki) and 2014 (Kvitova-Eugenie Bouchard).

 

Barty party?

Former French Open champion Ash Barty heads to Wimbledon as the top seed and will kick off her title bid against veteran Carla Suarez Navarro.

However, world number one Barty has never reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals. Reaching the 2019 fourth round was her best result. The last Australian woman to reach the quarters at Wimbledon was Jelena Dokic in 2000.

The top seed in the Wimbledon women's singles main draw has been eliminated in the first round just three times in the Open Era – Graf in 1994, Martina Hingis in 1999 and Hingis again in 2001.

Wimbledon is the only major won by Kvitova in her career (2011 and 2014). She is one among the three current players with multiple titles at the All England Club, alongside Serena and Venus Williams.

Karolina Pliskova was the woman with the most aces per match made on average at Wimbledon 2019 (9.0, 36 in total) among players who reached the third round.

Coco Gauff lost the first set in 20 minutes but roared back to stun seventh seed Elise Mertens – as Iga Swiatek also staged a comeback at the Viking International in Eastbourne.

Playing late in the day, Gauff was picked apart by Mertens to begin with, and also trailed by a break in the second set, but the 17-year-old American rising star pulled off a 0-6 7-6 (7-4) 7-5 first-round win.

Seeds Elina Svitolina, Bianca Andreescu and Swiatek all came through three-set matches on a busy day, but Karolina Pliskova was not so fortunate in her opener.

Winner of the grass-court event in 2017 and 2019, Pliskova arrived as the defending champion after last year's edition was cancelled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

However, her hopes of a repeat triumph came to an early end, beaten in three sets by qualifier Camila Giorgi.

The fifth seed was in charge initially against an opponent she had prevailed against in five of their six previous meetings, yet Giorgi produced an impressive response having fallen behind – aided by a strong service performance – to win 2-6 6-2 6-2.

Svitolina, the second seed, had lost in her previous two appearances in the main draw, and it appeared history could be repeated when Paula Badosa claimed the opening set against her.

Yet the second seed recovered to level, then dominated the tie-break in the decider to triumph 4-6 6-1 7-6 (7-1) and set up a second-round meeting with Elena Rybakina, who edged out wildcard Harriet Dart in three sets.

Andreescu, meanwhile, recorded her maiden win on grass in the main draw of a WTA tournament. The Canadian was made to work for it by Christina McHale, eventually coming out on top by a 6-4 2-6 6-2 scoreline.

Swiatek eventually saw off the challenge of Heather Watson after two hours and 42 minutes on court, a 6-3 6-7 (4-7) 7-5 triumph making sure of a place in the last 16. Watson led 4-1 and 40-0 in the decider but could not finish off last year's French Open champion.

This year's Roland Garros runner-up, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, meanwhile, was beaten 6-1 6-3 by Jelena Ostapenko.

At the Bad Homburg Open, second seed Victoria Azarenka defeated fellow Belarusian Yuliya Hatouka 7-5 6-0 to reach the last 16.

Jessica Pegula bowed out, though, as the American – seeded third – went down in a three-set tussle against Katerina Siniakova.

Jessica Pegula got the better of Karolina Pliskova once again as she knocked the fourth seed out of the bett1open on Thursday.

The American beat the former world number one 7-5 6-2 in Berlin, setting up a quarter-final clash with Victoria Azarenka.

It is the fourth time this season Pegula has defeated Pliskova.

Azarenka was also a straight-sets winner, overcoming Angelique Kerber in a battling 6-3 7-5 victory.

The two-time Australian Open champion was 4-1 down in the second set but roared back to prevail over Kerber for the 10th time in 11 matches.

Garbine Muguruza enjoyed a 6-4 6-3 victory over Elena Rybakina and will take on Alize Cornet next, while Ludmilla Samsonova downed Veronika Kudermetova by the same scoreline and will now face Madison Keys.

Ashleigh Barty described her retirement from Thursday's second-round clash against Magda Linette at the French Open as "heartbreaking". 

Top seed Barty required medical attention during her first-round win over Bernarda Pera two days earlier, with a hip injury the cause for concern.

The 25-year-old – back at Roland Garros for the first time since winning her maiden grand slam title in Paris in 2019 – vowed to "play through the pain barrier", yet the injury prevented her from continuing when 1-6 2-2 down against her Polish opponent, who will face Ons Jabeur in the next round. 

The Australian's retirement throws the draw wide open, with both of the top seeds now out after Naomi Osaka decided to withdraw amid her disagreement with tournament organisers.

Barty's clay-court season ended with a title in Stuttgart, a runner-up finish in Madrid and an appearance in the quarter-finals in Rome, and she could scarcely hide her disappointment at the way things ended for her in the French capital. 

"It's heartbreaking," she told a media conference. "I mean, we have had such a brilliant clay-court season, and to get a little bit unlucky with timing and have something acute happen over the weekend and just kind of run out of time against the clock is disappointing. 

"It won't take away the brilliant three months that we have had, as much as it hurts right now.

"We did everything, absolutely everything we could to give myself a chance. It was a small miracle that we were able to get on court for that first round.

"I just tried to give myself a chance and see how it felt. Obviously practicing, we've had our restrictions and essentially tried to stay as fresh as possible and not aggravate it in any way, but in a match that's unavoidable at times.

"It got worse today and it was becoming at the stage where it was unsafe. As hard as it is, it had to be done. Right from the first game, I was battling the pain, and it just became too severe."

SVITOLINA CRUISES THROUGH, PLISKOVA DUMPED OUT

Fifth seed Elina Svitolina booked a third-round meeting with Barbora Krejcikova after seeing off Ann Li 6-0 6-4. 

Svitolina landed 74 per cent of her first serves and struck 10 winners to cruise past the American in the opening set. 

Li bounced back in the second, roaring into a 4-1 lead, but Svitolina clawed her way back to ensure she reached at least the third round in seven of her nine appearances at Roland Garros. 

Svitolina, who overturned a 2-5 deficit in the second set to beat Oceane Babel in the first round, said: "In the end, what I'm really happy with is the way that I was down in both matches in the second set and found a way. 

"I found a good level and didn't give up on the second set. That was a really good point for me, and I was really playing composed in both matches. It was two different players, but I was really happy that I could win in two sets in both matches."

Up next is Krejcikova, who overcame Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-2 6-3.

There is no place in the third round for ninth seed Karolina Pliskova, who was soundly beaten 7-5 6-1 by Sloane Stephens, while number 13 seed Jennifer Brady battled past Fiona Ferro 6-1 1-6 6-4. 

KENIN WINS BATTLE OF THE AMERICANS

Fourth seed Sofia Kenin defeated fellow American Hailey Baptiste, a qualifier who won four matches in Paris on her French Open debut, 7-5 6-3. 

Kenin will now face another compatriot in 28th seed Jessica Pegula, who beat Tereza Martincova 6-3 6-3.

Elsewhere, defending champion Iga Swiatek thumped Rebecca Peterson 6-1 6-1, Coco Gauff got the better of Wang Qiang 6-3 7-6 (7-1), and Elise Mertens edged out Zarina Diyas 6-4 2-6 6-4.

Ashleigh Barty acknowledged it will be a "tough" week for her at the French Open as she plans to play through the pain at Roland Garros.

Barty – champion in Paris back in 2019 – had to take a medical time out during her first-round tie with Bernarda Pera on Tuesday.

The Australian world number one struggled with a hip issue, yet still progressed with a 6-4 3-6 6-2 win.

"It's going to be a little bit tough this week. I think over the weekend we had a bit of a flare-up through my left hip, which obviously just needed a bit of help today, needed some assistance to try and release it off as best I could," the 25-year-old said in her post-match news conference.

"I'm not going to hide behind the fact I'm not quite 100 per cent but I can guarantee that I will go out there with the right attitude every day and be really accepting of that and give it a crack no matter what.

"We're confident in that we can get my body to a point where I'm able to compete. We're here, we're fighting, we're in with a chance, and that's all we can do."

Magda Linette is next up for Barty on Thursday, the Polish player defeating Chloe Paquet in straight sets.

COCO CARRIES ON HER FORM AS SEEDS REACH ROUND TWO

Fresh from her triumph in both the singles and doubles in Parma, and a run to the Internazionali BNL d'Italia semi-finals, Coco Gauff started her campaign with a tough win over qualifier Aleksandra Krunic.

Gauff, the 24th seed, certainly had to do it the hard way, with the 17-year-old clawing back four set points in the opener, but some brilliant first serves – she landed 71 per cent of them – got her through in straight sets.

It brought up Gauff's first win at a grand slam as a seed. She is ranked at 25th in the world, making her the youngest American woman to make it into the top 25 since Serena Williams in 1998. 

Wang Qiang will face Gauff in round two in what is a repeat of the Parma final.

Meanwhile, three other big names also made it through. Former world number one and 2017 French Open semi-finalist Karolina Pliskova overcame her close friend Donna Vekic 7-5 6-4, while fellow Czech Karolina Muchova came from behind to beat Andrea Petkovic 1-6 6-3 6-4.

With Petkovic's exit, there are no female players from Germany in the second round at Roland Garros for the first time since 1958.

Fifth seed Elina Svitolina is also through to round two after coming back from a break down in the second set to beat teenager Oceane Babel 6-2 7-5.

"It's a first time for her to play here in the main draw of the grand slam and to face the sixth player in the world it's extremely tough," Svitolina said of her young opponent.

"I think she dealt very well with it and she went for her shots in the second set and made life very difficult for me."

SUAREZ NAVARRO MAKES COMEBACK

Carla Suarez Navarro overcame Hodgkin lymphoma earlier this year, after revealing last September that she had been diagnosed with the rare cancer.

Suarez Navarro won that battle and is now cancer free, but in what she said will be her last appearance at Roland Garros, she slipped to a defeat to 2018 finalist Sloane Stephens.

The Spaniard took the first set 6-3 and forced a tiebreaker in the second, but it was Stephens who edged it before taking that momentum into the decider to claim a 3-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 win.

Iga Swiatek sealed a place in the world's top 10 in style on Sunday, thrashing Karolina Pliskova without dropping a game in a stunning Internazionali BNL d'Italia final.

The reigning French Open champion was in ruthless form in the showpiece match, dismantling the ninth seed 6-0 6-0 in just 46 minutes on the Rome clay.

Pliskova simply had no answer as she suffered the first double-bagel loss in a WTA final since 2016, back when Anastasija Sevastova was on the receiving end against Simona Halep in Bucharest.

Swiatek showed no mercy to her opponent, losing just 13 points during a lopsided contest. She did face two break points in the third game of the second set, but quickly recovered to hold serve.

The victory secures a third career title for the teenager from Poland, who also triumphed in Adelaide earlier this year.

"I'm really really happy. I'm kind of overwhelmed because at the beginning of this tournament I wouldn't even dream of winning," Swiatek said in her on-court interview.

"It was super tough. We had to fight a lot of stuff.

"Obviously Karolina had a great run here and in previous years she's showing she's a really consistent player."

The new champion had needed to play twice on Saturday due to rain delays during the tournament, overcoming both Elina Svitolina and Coco Gauff in straight sets to progress to the final.

Those results came after a last-16 scare against Barbora Krejcikova, Swiatek twice having to save match points before eventually prevailing in a deciding set.

"I'm really happy we've been able to play with fans because you gave me a lot," Swiatek, who is certain to be inside the top 10 when the updated rankings are released on Monday, said.

"Everything happened during this week. I've been playing two matches in a day, saving set points, saving match points, and you [the crowd] helped me a lot because it's tough.

"I want to thank people that are not here, my family and my cat, I am always thinking about her."

French Open champion Iga Swiatek beat Elina Svitolina and Coco Gauff on a hectic Saturday to set up a clash with Karolina Pliskova in the Internazionali d'Italia final.

The Polish teenager began her day with a 6-2 7-5 morning victory over fifth seed Svitolina, twice a winner of this tournament in Rome.

It was a match that was carried over from Friday's schedule after rain interrupted play, and Swiatek delivered a convincing performance.

That set up the semi-final clash with Gauff, the 17-year-old American who was competing at this stage of a WTA 1000 event for the first time, having been gifted her last-four place when Ash Barty abandoned their quarter-final match due to injury on Friday.

There was no sign of fatigue from Swiatek as the 19-year-old powered to a 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 victory in a battle of the leading teenage stars of the women's game, who faced each for the first time in what could be a long rivalry.

Swiatek said: "I felt really good today. It's a big difference between my previous matches and today. I was able to beat Elina, so that shows that my game is here, I'm ready for anyone. It gave me a real confidence boost."

Quoted on the WTA website, the 15th seed added: "It's always hard to play against a young superstar, especially when I'm not used to that because I was always the youngest one.

"I just tried to have a high level of energy, even though it was my second match."

Between her two matches, Swiatek would have learned it was Pliskova waiting in the final, as the Czech ninth seed defeated Croatian Petra Martic 6-1 3-6 6-2 to keep up her remarkable record in the Italian capital.

Pliskova won the Rome title in 2019 and was runner-up to Simona Halep last year, but the 29-year-old former world number one has not been to a final since this event unusually took place in September of last year, having been delayed due to the pandemic.

Swiatek won as a major outsider at Roland Garros in October, defying her world ranking which at the time was a lowly 54th, and will face, in Pliskova, a player who has yet to win a grand slam title, a glaring absence amid an otherwise stellar career.

Against Gauff, Swiatek made 25 winners and just 16 unforced errors, a healthy ratio, and took three of her four break-point opportunities.

She sealed victory on a third match point, a big backhand forcing a stretching Gauff to chip beyond the baseline.

Gauff hit seven aces but also five double faults and had 33 winners and 32 unforced errors in the contest.

Ash Barty dramatically abandoned her Internazionali d'Italia quarter-final against Coco Gauff on Friday due to a right arm injury.

The world number one was leading 6-4 2-1 in Rome when, with her left thigh also heavily strapped, she pulled out of the match following talks with a trainer.

Barty's decision was precautionary as she will begin her French Open campaign in a little over two weeks' time, bidding to regain the title she won two years ago.

The scare came just hours after world number three Simona Halep announced she tore a calf muscle this week, putting the Romanian's Roland Garros prospects in some doubt.

Providing an update after the match with Gauff, which was interrupted by a rain delay, Australian Barty said: "The pain was becoming too severe so it was important to listen to my body and do the right thing knowing we have a slam."

Gauff, who had hit 12 winners to 15 unforced errors prior to her opponent's withdrawal, will now compete in her first career WTA 1000 semi-final.

Karolina Pliskova remained on course for a second Rome triumph in three years, after saving three match points to edge out Jelena Ostapenko.

The 2019 champion, who also finished runner-up last year, was 5-4 down in the final set when digging deep to hold off her 49th-ranked opponent.

The thrilling match went to a tie-break and Pliskova reeled off seven straight points after losing the opener to advance 4-6 7-5 7-6 (7-1).

"I'm just proud of how I fought," Pliskova said at her post-match news conference. "I'm happy that I stayed in there and fought until the end.

"We played last month, so I knew what was going to be happening. You can never get ready for some of the balls which she's playing."

Petra Martic stands between Pliskova and a place in the final for the third year running after the Croatian defeated Jessica Pegula 7-5 6-4.

Pegula eliminated Naomi Osaka earlier in the week but was second best against Martic, who progressed in one hour and 40 minutes.

Martic trailed 2-0 in the opening set before twice breaking Pegula to move 3-2 in front, but her opponent hit back to make it 5-5 in a tight contest.

However, Martic managed to break in the 11th game and served out the set, before showing her steeliness in the second to remain on course for a maiden WTA 1000 crown.  

Naomi Osaka quickly adapted to playing again on clay as she was among the seeds to triumph in Friday's action at the Madrid Open.

Osaka had not featured on the red dirt since a third-round exit at the 2019 French Open, missing out on competing on the surface last year due to injury.

This year's Australian Open champion stumbled out of the blocks against Misaki Doi, quickly falling 3-0 behind in the opener, but recovered from the early setback to prevail in straight sets.

The second seed hit 26 winners in a 7-5 6-2 triumph over her compatriot, who has now lost all three of their meetings on the WTA Tour.

"You obviously want to play well against a player that's from the same country," Osaka said.

"I never really know what to expect because I feel like she always plays better when I play against her, so it's a bit tough to manage controlling my emotions. But I think I was able to do it pretty well."

Simona Halep also won in her opener at the event, the third seed racing through the first set before holding off a fightback from Sara Sorribes Tormo in the second.

Halep – who needed 83 minutes to clinch a 6-0 7-5 victory – has been crowned champion twice in Madrid, the first time coming in 2016 before she returned a year later to successfully defend the title.

Aryna Sabalenka wasted little time in seeing off the challenge of Vera Zvonareva, the fifth seed producing 37 winners in a 6-1 6-2 win, her first ever in the event.

Maria Sakkari found the going much tougher before eventually ousting Amanda Anisimova, losing the first seven games in a row before rallying for a 0-6 6-1 6-4 triumph.

Daria Kasatkina was also pushed in her opener, with a 4-6 6-4 7-6 (7-1) win over Irina-Camelia Begu taking just over three hours.

Karolina Pliskova had to go the distance after falling a set behind against Coco Gauff, while two-time finalist Victoria Azarenka came out on top in a deciding set against Ekaterina Alexandrova.

In the final match on a busy day, Jennifer Brady won 6-2 6-4 in an all-American clash with Venus Williams.  

World number one Ash Barty survived a scare to reach the semi-finals of the Stuttgart Open with a 2-6 6-1 7-5 win over Karolina Pliskova.

The Australian started slowly in the quarter-final of the WTA 500 tournament on Friday as Pliskova broke her serve twice in taking the first set, before Barty hit back with three breaks of her own to force a decider.

Barty was two points away from losing on five occasions as world number nine Pliskova served for the match at 5-4 in the final set.

But she broke the Czech's resolve eventually, sealing victory when Pliskova hit the ball long after a baseline rally.

The win was Barty's eighth consecutive victory over a top-10 opponent and she said in a media conference afterwards that facing top players in the world brings the best out of her.

"When you come up against top-10 opponents, you have to go to that level above to be able to compete. They force you to bring your best," Barty said.

"With a lot of the girls in the top 10, we've had plenty of matches that have gone either way, different experiences, so each time I love that challenge of testing myself against the best."

Barty will face Elina Svitolina in the semi-finals after she saved two match points to claim a 6-7 (4-7) 7-5 6-2 victory over Petra Kvitova.

In the other half of the draw, Simona Halep breezed through to the semi-finals with a 6-1 6-4 win over Ekaterina Alexandrova.

Halep clinically closed out the first set, and although Alexandrova showed more fight in the second, the world number three did not allow her a route back into the match.

Halep will face Aryna Sabalenka following the Belarusian's 7-5 4-6 6-1 win over Anett Kontaveit.

In the Istanbul Cup, top seed Elise Mertens secured her place in the semi-finals with a 6-4 6-4 win over Katerina Siniakova.

Mertens will face Veronika Kudermetova who fought back from a set down to clinch a 2-6 6-3 6-3 win over Ana Bogdan.

The other semi-final will see Sorana Cirstea play Marta Kostyuk. Cirstea progressed after Fiona Ferro, trailing 6-4, retired through injury while Kostyuk beat Ana Konjuh 7-5 4-6 6-3.

Naomi Osaka did not raise a sweat en route to the Miami Open last 16 as Garbine Muguruza moved through but Sofia Kenin and Karolina Pliskova bowed out.

Australian Open champion and second seed Osaka benefited from a walkover after qualifier Nina Stojanovic withdrew ahead of Sunday's clash due to a right thigh injury.

Elise Mertens will face Osaka following the 16th seed's 6-2 0-6 6-2 win against Anett Kontaveit.

Two-time grand slam winner Muguruza rallied past Russian wildcard Anna Kalinskaya at the WTA Premier event.

However, fourth seed Kenin was sent packing as sixth seed Pliskova was tamed by nemesis Jessica Pegula in Miami.

 

MUGURUZA STAYS HOT

Spanish star Muguruza dug deep to earn her tour-leading 20th win of the season.

Former world number one Muguruza – the 12th seed – prevailed 4-6 6-3 6-4 against Kalinskaya, having trailed 3-0 in the final set.

"I brought my fighting spirit and I could match the level of fighting against Anna, and very happy to go through these tough matches," Muguruza said following two hours, 41 minutes on court.

"Doesn't matter if you play pretty or you play ugly, but you stay strong and you go through these rounds. That gives me an opportunity to feel better and to have another chance."

Muguruza – who has the most final appearances this season with three, having won the Dubai Tennis Championships and finished runner-up at the Qatar Open and Yarra Valley Classic – will next face eighth seed Bianca Andreescu.

Former US Open champion Andreescu overcame fellow seed Amanda Anisimova 7-6 (7-4) 6-7 (2-7) 6-4.

 

KENIN'S WOES CONTINUE

It has been a rough 2021 for American star Kenin.

Stunned in the second round of the Australian Open – in her title defence – Kenin then crashed out of the Phillip Island Trophy at the first hurdle.

Kenin rallied to beat Andrea Petkovic first-up in Miami, but the 22-year-old was beaten 6-4 4-6 6-4 by 27th seed Ons Jabeur.

Jabeur and Sara Sorribes Tormo – who shocked 21st seed Elena Rybakina 6-1 3-6 6-2 – will meet for a spot in the quarter-finals.

 

PLISKOVA FALLS TO PEGULA… AGAIN

For the third time this past month, 2019 Miami Open runner-up Pliskova went down 6-1 4-6 6-4 to 29th seed Pegula.

Australian Open quarter-finalist Pegula conquered Pliskova in Doha and Dubai before repeating the feat in Miami on Sunday.

"I played her a lot the last three weeks, three tournaments," Pegula said. "I kind of expected her to play well there. Even when I was up I still felt like she could easily come back just because she plays so aggressive and she serves well."

After reeling off the final four games, Pegula set up a last-16 showdown with 23rd seed Maria Sakkari, who dismantled qualifier Liudmila Samsonova 6-0 6-1.

Petra Kvitova moved a step closer to a second successive appearance in the Qatar Open final after overcoming Anett Kontaveit on Thursday. 

Two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova lost to Aryna Sabalenka in the 2020 final but has looked on top form throughout the week in Doha. 

Kontaveit proved a tough opponent for the fourth seed, however, and Kvitova – the 2018 champion – needed three sets to progress 6-3 3-6 6-2. 

"I'm really glad that after losing the second set, which I probably didn't play the best, I started very well in the third," said Kvitova. 

"I learned that the return was pretty good from my side. I was going for it – first point, first shot – and I think that made a big difference. In the rally, it was 50-50 and anybody could win it, but when I put the pressure from my return, it was really very nice."

Her reward is a semi-final tie with qualifier Jessica Pegula, who caused an upset by defeating second seed Karolina Pliskova 6-3 6-1. 

Pegula reached the Australian Open quarter-finals last month and played with supreme confidence to oust the 2017 champion and reach her maiden semi-final at a WTA 500 event. 

The other half of the draw will see Victoria Azarenka taking on Garbine Muguruza. 

Azarenka triumphed 6-2 6-4 over top seed Elina Svitolina, with the two-time Doha champion maintaining her unbeaten record against the Ukrainian to reach the 60th WTA semi-final of her career. 

Muguruza, meanwhile, battled past Maria Sakkari 6-3 6-1 to complete the last four. 

At the Lyon Open, French duo Kristina Mladenovic and Clara Burel booked their places in the last eight, beating Margarita Gasparyan and Aliaksandra Sasnovich respectively. 

Spaniard Paula Badosa awaits Mladenovic, while teenage wildcard Burel takes on compatriot and second seed Fiona Ferro in what is her first WTA quarter-final. 

There were also victories for Greet Minnen and Viktorija Golubic.

Garbine Muguruza made clear she is "fighting for trophies" on the WTA Tour after knocking out defending champion Aryna Sabalenka at the Qatar Open. 

Muguruza prevailed in a high-quality contest that required a third set to decide the outcome, the world number 16 and two-time grand slam champion eventually triumphing 6-2 6-7 (7-5) 6-3 after two hours, 18 minutes on court. 

Sabalenka had won their only previous meeting but the third seed saw her hopes of retaining the trophy dashed, not helped by only managing to convert four of the 13 break-point opportunities she created in the match. 

Muguruza – who matched 41 winners with the same number of unforced errors – finished in fine style, claiming the final four games in a row to set up a meeting with Maria Sakkari, who defeated Madison Keys in straight sets. 

"I'm very motivated to play top players," Muguruza said in her post-match press conference, according to the WTA Tour's website. "Like everybody, I worked hard. I'm fighting for trophies, to play well in big tournaments, in good tournaments. 

"Today I was facing a top player, and I knew I have to go out there with a big, fighting spirit, and be strong to be able to win against these tough opponents." 

While the 2020 winner is no longer involved, former champions Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova both made it beyond the second round with straight-sets wins in Wednesday's action. 

Azarenka, who claimed the title in 2012 and then returned to successfully retain it a year later, saw off qualifier Laura Siegemund 6-4 6-2. 

Kvitova, meanwhile, eased past Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The fourth seed went all the way in 2018 and is now into the last eight this year – a 6-1 6-3 result paving the way for a clash with Anett Kontaveit.

Top seed Elina Svitolina is also through – and will face Azarenka next – after needing little over an hour to defeat Misaki Doi 6-1 6-2.

Karolina Pliskova, the second seed, found life far tougher against Ons Jabeur however, eventually coming out on top 6-4 4-6 7-5 in a thriller.

Meanwhile, at the Lyon Open, second seed Fiona Ferro progressed to the last eight on home soil after opponent Tereza Martincova was forced to retire when 4-1 down in the second set, having already lost the opener too.

Alize Cornet is another French favourite hoping to make home advantage tell in the tournament; the fifth seed rallied from a set down to beat compatriot Clara Burel 1-6 6-1 6-3. 

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