Sabalenka makes Madrid final; Karatsev in semis

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MADRID — Aryna Sabalenka advanced to the Madrid Open final for the second time in three years by defeating Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-1 on Thursday.

The 2021 champion in the Spanish capital will face either top-ranked Iga Swiatek or 12th-seeded Veronika Kudermetova, who will play later Thursday.

The second-seeded Sabalenka opened with a 3-0 lead before Sakkari pulled even. The 24-year-old player from Belarus then won nine of the last 11 games, including the last five, to comfortably close out the match.

The Australian Open champion is seeking her fifth WTA 1000 title and 13th career title overall.

The ninth-seeded Sakkari has a 7-22 record in semifinals. It was the first time the 27-year-old Greek was playing in the last four in Madrid.

Men’s qualifier Aslan Karatsev reached his first Masters 1000 semifinal after ending a strong run by Chinese player Zhang Zhizhen 7-6 (3), 6-4.

The 121st-ranked Russian saved all three break points he faced in the first set and converted his only opportunity in the second.

The 99th-ranked Zhang was the first Chinese man to make the quarterfinals of a Masters 1000 tournament by upsetting Danis Shapovalov, Cameron Norrie and Taylor Fritz.

Karatsev has been ranked as high as 14th. In 2021, he became the first man in his Grand Slam debut to reach the Australian Open semifinals.

In Madrid, he’s only the second qualifier to make the semis.

“I started the year inside the top 100 then I dropped and lost some matches,” he said. “You have to keep going and believe, and I have a team behind me that is always supporting me and believing in me.”

Karatsev will next face fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas or lucky loser Jan-Lennard Struff.

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