Tennis: Australian Open champ Kenin crumbles under 22nd-ranked Sakkari's power in Abu Dhabi

Sofia Kenin lost three sets to ninth seed Maria Sakkari in the quarter-finals.
Sofia Kenin lost three sets to ninth seed Maria Sakkari in the quarter-finals.PHOTO: REUTERS

ABU DHABI (AFP) - Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin crashed out of the WTA event in Abu Dhabi on Monday (Jan 11), losing in three sets to ninth seed Maria Sakkari in the quarter-finals.

After top seed Kenin took the opening set 6-2, the Greek bounced back by galloping through the next two 6-2, 6-0, winning the last 10 games in a row to complete her fifth win over a top-five player and book a semi-final clash with Belarussian Aryna Sabalenka.

"Beating these players this week it means a lot," said Sakkari after her win.

"I'm playing players that I've never played, like (Garbine Muguruza) yesterday, so I have a better idea if I play them again.

"So in general it gives me a lot of confidence starting the year like that and I'm super happy to travel to Australia with some good matches with me."

The Australian Open begins in Melbourne on Feb 8.

Kenin survived a match point in the previous round before getting the better of Yulia Putintseva but the American found the new, improved Sakkari a different proposition.

Kenin swept through the opening set but the match changed completely when Sakkari held serve to go 3-2 up in the second and then broke Kenin to go 4-2 ahead.

The Greek, ranked 22nd in the world, pounded the lines to take the set and then bulldozed the third, inflicting a rare bagel on the world No. 4.

"I think that one of the things that really helped me is that I realised that my ball is pretty heavy," said Sakkari.

"I have a lot of power and I have been using it the right way.

"Up until last year, I couldn't really control my power so I had to take a little bit of pace off because I was hitting too hard and I was missing many shots.

"So I think I've found a way and I've found my real pace on the court. When I have an opportunity I go for it and that builds confidence."

In the other semi-final, 18 year-old Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk will meet another unseeded player, the Russian Veronika Kudermetova, who beat world No.5 Elina Svitolina 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3).

World No. 99 Kostyuk came back from a first-set horror show to beat the Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo 0-6, 6-1, 6-4, and reach the first WTA semi-final of her career.

Kudermetova of Russia shocked Svitolina in a 21/2-hour thriller to claim the fifth top-10 win of her career.

"I tried to play aggressive, because you know Elina, she has such good defence," said Kudermetova.

"If you want to win, you need to attack, you need to go to the net, finish the point, because she runs unbelievably. You need to do something aggressive to win the points."