Friday’s schedule at the Shenzhen Open served a blockbuster anticlimax, as Maria Sharapova faced a 6-1 4-2 deficit to Aryna Sabalenka in the quarterfinals when she retired from the match citing a left thigh injury. Sharapova was playing her first singles tournament since last year’s US Open, after which she didn’t play because of a right forearm injury.
Former world No.1 Sharapova struggled to find any rhythm against an aggressive and determined world No.13 Sabalenka in the first set, as she racked up unforced errors with long forehands and net shots.
After taking a medical timeout at the end of the first set, the Russian began to play more aggressively and got her first break of the match in the fourth game of the second set to cancel out Sabalenka’s break in the third and tie the set at 2-2, giving her vociferous fans in the stadium some hope.
However, it was becoming clear that Sharapova’s mobility was not at 100% and after Sabalenka took the next two games, the 31-year-old decided to pull out of the match.
Sabalenka will play world No.70 Wang Yafan for the first time on tour in tomorrow’s semifinal, after the Chinese showed great form and resilience to overturn a one-set deficit and defeat Romanian qualifier Monica Niculescu 2-6 7-6(4) 6-1 in two hours and twenty minutes.
As the sole Chinese singles player left in the draw, Wang will surely have the support of locals as she attempts to make her first WTA final appearance, having lost in both her previous semifinal appearances (Guangzhou 2014, Nanchang 2017).
American Alison Riske stayed on course to make her third final in four years of competing in Shenzhen, as she rallied from going a break down twice in the first set to complete a 7-5 6-1 victory over Romania’s Sorana Cirstea.
Veteran Russian Vera Zvonareva has justified her wildcard entry into the main draw with a battling performance on Centre Court to overturn a one set deficit from yesterday’s rain-interrupted match to win 4-6 7-5 6-3 against compatriot Veronika Kudermetova, who was one of two qualifiers that made the quarterfinals.
The 34-year-old world No.109, who is set to break into the Top 100 for the first time since January 2013 after today’s victory, notched five breaks in 14 opportunities and saved seven break points out of ten against her young opponent to make her second semifinal since her return to tour from maternity break two years ago. (source: Shenzhen Open press release)