WUHAN: Aryna Sabalenka moved one step closer to defending her Wuhan Open crown after dispatching world number one Ash Barty in straight sets with a 7-5, 6-4 victory in the semi-final on Friday, setting up a final showdown with American Alison Riske, who toppled Petra Kvitova 7-5, 7-5.
Barty struggled to compete with a calf injury limiting her movement and service game. She made eight double faults and was broken three times in the one hour 43 minute contest to give Sabalenka her third win over the Australian in five encounters.
Top seed Barty was forced to call for a trainer for treatment on her calf but gave due credit to Sabalenka.
“I’m sure [the injury] is nothing that is too alarming. I tried to do the best that I could to protect it in a way without letting it affect my tennis too much,” Barty said.
“Overall, Aryna was the better player today. She was able to control her service games a lot better. I felt at times I was hanging on a little bit.
“I had to take a lot of risks today to try to manage where I was at. I was more in the match than I deserved to be.”
It was Sabalenka’s 11th consecutive win in Wuhan and takes her career record in China to 28-6.
“It means a lot for me,” said the ninth-seeded Belarusian. “It feels even better than last year… This year it was a really tough season for me. To get back on that level, it feels much more enjoyable.”
Unseeded American Alison Riske beat two-time champion Kvitova in the other semi-final to advance to her first Premier final.
Kvitova’s poor service game saw her concede 15 break points, of which Riske converted four to win the match in straight sets despite a late fightback from the Czech who finished with 45 unforced errors.
“I always thought I was good, but I never really kind of embodied that,” Riske said. “In the big moments, I wasn’t really delivering. “I feel like it’s taken me a while. I had spurts of it. I’m 29, so it’s about time I get something right here.”