How do you approach an encounter against an unstoppable force? That’s the task that awaits Maria Sakkari when she takes on Aryna Sabalenka on Tuesday for a spot in the Abu Dhabi final.
"[Sabalenka is] super confident now," said Sakkari. "We know each other really well, we practice a lot together. She's having a great career so far and she's really young.”
Both players had tough three-set quarterfinal victories—with Sabalenka pushing past Elena Rybakina to extend her winning streak to 13 matches, and Sakkari rallying past top-seeded Sofia Kenin.
"I'm really happy that already at the beginning of the season I've played against different styles," Sabalenka said. "That's really good and I'm really happy. It's giving me a lot of advantage. It's perfect to start the season like that after the pre-season.”
On paper, Sabalenka has the edge, as she leads their head-to-head 3-1 after claiming their their last three meetings. The last two were in the Middle East last season—the similar conditions as the ones in Abu Dhabi. That advantage, though, doesn’t seem to faze the 25-year-old Greek.
“I beat her once so I think I can do it again,” Sakkari said. “I'm not saying I will for sure, but it's going to be a very tough match for both."
So what should we expect in their semifinal collision, one that sure has the makings of an extremely competitive encounter—and an entertaining one for that matter? In order for Sakkari to stop the bleeding, she’ll need to force the Belarusian to hit a lot of balls. She can also mix up things and draw Sabalenka in with drop shots.
If Sabalenka is able to keep her aggression in check and doesn't pull the trigger too quickly—which can sometimes be a struggle—it will be difficult for Sakkari to handle the No. 4 seed’s power.
The Pick: Aryna Sabalenka