It was win or go home as Aryna Sabalenka and Maria Sakkari took the court for the final round-robin match at the 2021 WTA Finals on Monday night, as the winner would join Garbine Muguruza, Anett Kontaveit and Paula Badosa in the final four.

And in the end it was Sakkari who survived to reach the semis, fighting back from 3-1 down in the third set to win after two hours and 47 minutes, 7-6 (1), 6-7 (6), 6-3.

“I think the atmosphere makes it even more special,” Sakkari said in her on-court interview. “It’s my first night match—I knew it was kind of unreal out here, but playing in front of you guys, it’s my first big win in Mexico and I think I will never forget it.”

Sabalenka had won the pair’s last four meetings, and eight of their last nine sets, and she had her opportunities to continue the trend in this one, too.

The Belarusian had all kinds of chances in the first set, not only breaking for a 5-3 lead, but—after getting broken right back—bringing up a set point with Sakkari serving in the next game, 4-5, 30-40. But she missed a forehand putaway wide on that set point, and after a few more holds the two went to a tie-break, where Sakkari ripped through seven points in a row from 1-0 down to claim a one-set lead.

After again building a 5-3 lead in the second set, and even holding two set points in that game, Sabalenka eventually snuck out the second set in a tie-break, clinching it on her fourth set point with a massive crosscourt backhand winner.

Then, after a slight hiccup—she got broken in the opening game—Sabalenka continued to forge ahead in the third set, opening up a 3-1 lead. But like she’s done so many times throughout her career and especially this year, Sakkari fought back, battling through the last five games in a row to complete an absolutely electric win.

Sakkari's win over the No. 2-ranked Sabalenka didn't just put her into the semifinals in Guadalajara, it was also the equal-biggest win of her career by ranking.

Sakkari's win over the No. 2-ranked Sabalenka didn't just put her into the semifinals in Guadalajara, it was also the equal-biggest win of her career by ranking.


Sakkari was asked afterwards what the key to her victory was.

“A bit of luck always helps,” she said. “But of course my fighting spirit and playing with my heart is always something that makes my life a lot easier on the court.”

More solid numbers were key to Sakkari’s victory, too. She finished with 27 winners to 36 unforced errors, a -9 differential, while Sabalenka had 29 winners to 56 unforced errors, a -27 differential. Sabalenka also finished with 7 aces to 20 double faults.

Sakkari’s win over the No. 2-ranked Belarusian didn’t just clinch her the final spot in the final four at the season-ending event, it was also the equal-biggest win of her career, tying her victory over a No. 2-ranked Naomi Osaka in Miami this year.

Awaiting the No. 6-ranked Sakkari in the semifinals will be the No. 8-ranked Kontaveit—Sakkari leads their head-to-head, 6-5, and they’re 2-2 this year.

“We all know that Anett had a hell of a run lately,” Sakkari said. “I actually told her in Moscow before she qualified that I’d see her in Guadalajara. She didn’t believe me.”

Their last meeting came in the final of the WTA 500 indoor hard-court event in Ostrava, Czech Republic, with Kontaveit winning that one, 6-2, 7-5.