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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, February 14, 2020

Maria Sakkari

Maria Sakkari battled back from a set and a break down toppling top-seeded Belinda Bencic 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 to charge into the St. Petersburg semifinals.

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

A fired-up Maria Sakkari turned to her box and pounded her palm over her heart.

A simple gesture expressing another heart-racing comeback.

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Sakkari stormed back from a one-set, one-break deficit topping top-seeded Belinda Bencic 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 to charge into her first semifinal of the season in St. Petersburg.

The sixth-seeded Greek scored her third career Top 5-victory—and first Top 5 win on hard court.

"The groundstrokes and the way I fought, came back from a set and a break down [were keys]," said Sakkari, who raised her record to 3-6 lifetime vs. Top 5-ranked opponents. "Not proud of the way I served or volleyed, but very proud of my baseline game and fighting."

The spirited rally continued a comeback week.

In her opener, Sakkari roused herself from a one-set deficit edging Russian Vitalia Diatchenko 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3) in two hours, 38 minutes. That comeback set the stage for Sakkari's surge today.

Surrending serve to start the decider, Sakkari immediately broke back to level.

The 24-year-old Greek battered Bencic's second serve winning eight of 10 points played on the Swiss' second delivery in the final set. Sakkari broke again for 5-3.

Serving for her first St. Petersburg semifinal, Sakkari soared to snap a smash on match point, but neglected to cover the line.

A streaking Bencic spun a backhand pass down the line to save it. Sakkari closed on her third match point raising her record to 7-3 on the season.

Ranked a career-high No. 21, Sakkari will play hard-hitting Elena Rybakina for a spot in the final. It will be the first meeting between the Moscow-born Rybakina and Sakkari.

The eighth-seeded Rybakina ripped 15 aces and saved six of eight break points rallying past Frenchwoman Oceane Dodin 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-2 in two hours, 27 minutes.

Rybakina broke twice in succession rolling out to a 4-0 lead in the decider and never looked back improving to 14-2 on the season, including a 5-0 mark in three-setters.

World No. 25 Rybakina, who won her second career title in Hobart last month, is playing for her third final of the season.

Tennis Express

Earlier, two-time Grand Slam champion Petra Kvitova withdrew from the tournament with illness sending Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova into the semifinals.

Alexandrova will play either defending champion Kiki Bertens or 101st-ranked Russian qualifier Anastasia Potapova for a spot in the final.


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