Tennis: In-form world No. 10 Sabalenka to face Russia's Kudermetova in Abu Dhabi final

The fourth-seeded Aryna Sabalenka will be targeting a ninth career title in the final. PHOTO: AFP

ABU DHABI (AFP) - World No. 10 Aryna Sabalenka says she will do everything she can to keep her winning streak alive after she posted a 14th consecutive victory in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday (Jan 12) to reach her third final in as many tournaments.

She needed just 61 minutes to wrap up her 6-3, 6-2 success over the ninth-seeded Maria Sakkari and will take on Russia's Veronika Kudermetova in the title decider in the UAE capital on Wednesday.

The 22-year-old from Belarus, who ended her 2020 season by picking up back-to-back titles in Ostrava and Linz, completed an Arabian Gulf hat-trick against Sakkari, having also defeated the Greek in Dubai and Doha 11 months ago.

The longest winning streak in WTA history was Martina Navratilova's 74-match run in 1984.

"It's an unbelievable number. Of course I'd like to go this far and I'll do everything I can to keep winning, so we'll see," said Sabalenka of Navratilova's record.

"I think I'm putting my focus on the right space. I'm just focusing on the right things and this helps me to, first of all, not think about all these wins and secondly to keep winning.

"I think I need to keep focusing on my game, on my movement on the court and try to do everything I can in the moment and I think that works really well with me."

Contesting the biggest semi-final of her career, Kudermetova survived a 60-minute first-set battle on her way to a 7-6 (10-8), 6-4 win over Ukrainian teenager Marta Kostyuk.

"I have a little bit more experience than Marta, she is really young, she's 18. Today I think it was the key because I have a little bit more experience than her," said the 23-year-old Kudermetova, who idolises mixed martial arts star Khabib Nurmagomedov and the freshly retired Maria Sharapova.

The world No. 46 is through to her maiden WTA final and takes a 5-3 win-loss record against top-10 opposition into her clash with Sabalenka.

"From my side, I don't have expectations from tomorrow because Aryna is a top-10 player. She plays unbelievably, she's playing really well here," Kudermetova said, looking ahead to the final.

"I think she has a bit more pressure than me because she's supposed to win tomorrow, she already won two tournaments in a row. I think tomorrow I'll play freely; I'll try to play relaxed and try to enjoy my final."

Sabalenka swept the opening three games and was untroubled until Sakkari stopped her from serving out the first set at 5-1. The Greek narrowed the gap but Sabalenka's firepower delivered in game nine as she secured a one-set lead in just under 30 minutes.

Sakkari enjoyed a better start to the second set but Sabalenka would not relent, and the Belarusian soon earned a double-break advantage en route to victory.

"She played lights-out tennis, she gave me zero chances," said the 22nd-ranked Sakkari.

The fourth-seeded Sabalenka fired 22 winners against a mere eight unforced errors and will be targeting a ninth career title in the final.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.