Sabalenka vs. Garcia a showcase in power

MASON, Ohio — The Western & Southern Open semifinals will be a feast of power tennis Saturday.

The first semifinal features 2019 champion Madison Keys against two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. The second semifinal will see World No.7 Aryna Sabalenka take on a resurgent Caroline Garcia.

Who will be able to impose their will for the win?

Matches begin at 11:00 am ET.

No.6 seed Arina Sabalenka vs. Caroline Garcia

Head-to-head: Sabalenka leads 2-1
Last meeting: Garcia d. Sabalenka, 6-4, 6-4, 2018 Zhuhai

No one has won more matches since the start of June on the Hologic WTA Tour than Caroline Garcia, who won her 25th with a 6-1, 7-6 win against No.7 seed Jessica Pegula in the quarterfinals. Ranked No.35, the Frenchwoman had to come through qualifying to earn her main-draw berth, but her form has proven impossible to stop in Cincinnati. Garcia is the first qualifier to make the semifinals of the event since Akgul Amanmuradova in 2007.

After coming through in three sets over Diane Parry and Andrea Petkovic in qualifying, Garcia has defeated two Top 10 opponents in Cincinnati, first over Maria Sakkari and then Pegula. She has been broken a total of three times in her four main-draw matches, winning a tournament-best 93.5% of her service games.

But will that serve hold up against Sabalenka’s return? The World No.7 is into her first hard-court WTA 1000 semifinal of the season, with wins over Anna Kalinskaya, Shelby Rogers and Zhang Shuai. Sabalenka is bidding to make her biggest final since winning Madrid in 2021.

“She’s in the Top 10 for quite a while now, always doing good in the big events,” Garcia said. “You can always count on her. Doesn’t matter how many double faults she’s doing in one game, she is still here, still winning matches, not afraid to go for it.

“So it’s going to be a great challenge for me. I’m really looking for it. It’s a good challenge to play another aggressive player to see who can be the most aggressive and do the best they can.”

Sabalenka surges past Zhang into Cincy semis

She’s struggled with her serve since the WTA Finals last fall, but Sabalenka has brought on a biomechanics specialist to help address her motion.

“This season was really crazy for me, a lot of challenges,” Sabalenka said. “I’m super proud of myself that I was able to handle all these tough moments this year and I was able to fight. Even if something didn’t work, I still kept trying my best, still fighting for it.

“I’m super happy to be in another semifinal, and I will do my best tomorrow.”

Madison Keys vs. Petra Kvitova

Head-to-head: 4-4
Last meeting: Kvitova d. Keys, 7-5, 6-4, 2021 Cincinnati first round

Game recognizes game and power recognizes power. When it comes to Madison Keys and Petra Kvitova, there is nothing but respect between two of the biggest hitters in the game.

“She is a big hitter, but even from the forehand she can go a little bit different style sometimes, that she can put it a little bit upper with more topspin,” Kvitova told reporters after her straight-sets win against Ajla Tomljanovic in the quarterfinals. “She is moving very well. And especially the serve, she has a lot of variety of the serve. She can go for ace, she can have a kick, she has beautiful technique of the serve.

“Definitely she has more kinds of this stuff. Not like me, I don’t have nothing, I’m just boom-boom.”

The two-time Wimbledon champion was certainly selling herself short, especially in a week that has seen her blast her way past Jil Teichmann, Sorana Cirstea, Ons Jabeur and Tomljanovic to make her first WTA 1000 semifinal in two years.

The challenge for Kvitova will be physical. In a season in which she has struggled to string wins together, she admitted she went into her quarterfinal feeling the wear and tear of the week. The fatigue forced her to play with more risk. It worked out against Tomljanovic, but Keys poses a different set of challenges.

Keys has played relaxed, confident tennis in what is effectively her home tournament. The Illinois native has rediscovered the attitude and game that won her title in Adelaide and an Australian Open semifinal in January, deploying her booming groundstrokes to precise effect.

“I have obviously had some battles against Petra,” Keys said after her dominant win over Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina. “Won some, lost some. It’s never easy to play her, especially later in a draw, meaning that she’s playing some very good tennis.”

2020 Brisbane Highlights: Keys completes comeback over Kvitova

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