Tennis: Sabalenka eyes French Open semis, Rybakina beaten by Paolini

AFP , Wednesday 5 Jun 2024

Aryna Sabalenka targets a place in a seventh consecutive Grand Slam semi-final when she takes on Russian teenager Mirra Andreeva at the French Open on Wednesday, after fourth seed Elena Rybakina was knocked out by Italy's Jasmine Paolini.

Elena Rybakina
Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina reacts as she plays against Italy's Jasmine Paolini during their women's singles quarter final match on Court Philippe-Chatrier on day eleven of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros Complex in Paris on June 5, 2024. Photo: AFP


The remaining men's quarter-final on Court Philippe Chatrier sees Alexander Zverev play Alex de Minaur in the night session, after Novak Djokovic's withdrawal with a knee injury handed Casper Ruud a walkover into the last four.

World number two Sabalenka, who is still on course to meet rival Iga Swiatek in Saturday's final, has not failed to reach a Slam semi-final since lifting her first major title at last year's Australian Open.

"When you finally get there, to your goal, it actually gives you so much confidence in yourself," the Belarusian said.

Sabalenka has powered through the draw so far without dropping a set, including a 6-1, 6-2 dismantling of Andreeva's older sister Erika in the first round.

However, 17-year-old Mirra, the youngest woman to reach the quarter-finals since 2005, could prove a tougher nut to crack despite having failed to win a set against Sabalenka in two previous meetings.

"Of course we will add a few adjustments," she said. "We will change something, because the way I played last two times didn't work."

The winner will play 12th seed Paolini for a spot in the final on Thursday after her surprise 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 victory over former Wimbledon champion Rybakina.

Paolini made just one unforced error in a dominant opening set, but her level dropped after breaking to lead 4-3 in the second, allowing Rybakina to force a decider.

But she edged a topsy-turvy third set which featured five breaks of serve to secure a deserved victory, as a wayward Rybakina exited the tournament in a blaze of 48 unforced errors.

The 28-year-old Paolini, who was playing in her first Grand Slam quarter-final, continued a brilliant week for Italian tennis after Jannik Sinner also made his maiden French Open semi-final and took the men's world number one ranking.

It is the first time Italy have had semi-finalists in both the men's and women's singles at a Slam event in the Open era.

"It's an unbelievable feeling," said Paolini, who had never got past the French Open second round and had only won four Grand Slam matches in her career before this year.

Djokovic injury shakes up men's draw

Djokovic had been due to face Casper Ruud in a repeat of last year's final, but the 24-time Grand Slam champion's title defence was abruptly ended by a knee injury he suffered during his dramatic last-16 victory over Francisco Cerundolo.

Media reports suggested Djokovic was set to undergo surgery, which would put his participation at Wimbledon and the Paris Olympics in doubt.

Sinner will usurp Djokovic as world number one next week and the Italian goes up against Carlos Alcaraz in Friday's men's semi-finals.

Zverev and De Minaur, playing in only his second Slam quarter-final, will face off for the remaining last-four spot against Ruud.

German fourth seed Zverev will be targeting a fourth straight Roland Garros semi-final after making the last eight for the sixth time in seven years.

He needed five sets to beat Tallon Griekspoor in the third round, before fighting back to defeat Holger Rune in another decider in a last-16 tie which finished at 1:40 am local time -- the second-latest finish in French Open history.

"I've played a total of eight-and-a-half hours over the last three days so I need to recover," said Zverev.

Zverev is playing under the shadow of an ongoing trial in Berlin over allegations of assaulting an ex-girlfriend.

Australian De Minaur, seeded 11th, had never even got past the second round in Paris before this year, winning just three of 10 matches.

"It's one of my best Slam results. Looks like I've converted myself into a clay specialist," De Minaur said.

There will be a first-time French Open men's champion for the first time since 2016 on Sunday, with Ruud the only man left in the draw who has previously reached the final.

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