Charleston played host to some exciting quarterfinal action, despite the conditions during the opening match being far from stellar. The wet weather from the overnight rains left the court slow and gritty, which may well have contributed to Belinda Bencic’s elimination. However, her conqueror Petra Martic deserves credit for her skilful play, with the Croatian’s accuracy ultimately the in-form Bencic’s undoing.
Maria Sakkari, meanwhile, proved no match for former world #1 Caroline Wozniacki, suffering a 2-6 2-6 loss at the hands of the Dane. Top seed Sloane Stephens also crashed out after losing a tough three-set clash to Madison Keys, as her difficult start to the season continued, in a rematch of their 2017 US Open final clash. Also making an exit was out-of-sorts Danielle Collins, who fell to a 3-6 2-6 loss at the hands of Monica Puig. But who will make their way into the final?
Caroline Wozniacki vs Petra Martic
Head-to-head: Wozniacki 5-0 Martic
Few can have expected Martic to reach the last four in Charleston, with the Croatian having arrived in South Carolina with just a handful of wins to her name in 2019. Yet, here she is, appearing in her first WTA Premier event semifinal. An exciting moment for the Croat, no doubt, and one she has earned with her measured play. A strong server, Martic has found the court with her first delivery around 70% of the time so far in Charleston, helping her to create the openings she needs to fire winners. That combination of accurate serving and penetrating hitting proved too much for Bencic, with the Swiss losing 3-6 4-6.
Wozniacki, meanwhile, scored a fine win over Greece’s Sakkari in the last eight. Sakkari surely came into the match full of confidence after besting defending champion Kiki Bertens in the round of 16 and it looked likely to be a difficult test for Wozniacki. But with the exception of the final game of the match, which lasted 16-minutes and saw nine deuces, Sakkari offered little resistance. Doing what she does best, Wozniacki kept almost every ball in play, effortlessly moving through the court to grind down the Greek for the loss of just four games.
This will be the fifth meeting between Wozniacki and Martic, with the Dane owning a commanding 5-0 lead in their head-to-head, albeit with all five previous clashes having come on a hard court. The 28-year-old Wozniacki has also won 30 WTA Tour titles, whilst Martic has never won a title at tour-level. But although Wozniacki may have the advantage in terms of experience, Martic is playing the best tennis of her career. Expect her to continue her excellent run with another giant-killing win.
Prediction: Martic in two
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Madison Keys vs Monica Puig
Head-to-head: Keys 2-2 Puig
Keys finally succeeded in picking up a win against Stephens, having lost her previous three meetings with her compatriot, including in the 2017 US Open final and the last four at Roland Garros last season. In Charleston, it was a close run thing, but Keys eventually emerged the deserved victor after two hours and twelve minutes of play. However, there is certainly room for improvement for Keys, who dropped serve six times in her 7-6 4-6 6-2 win and won just 38% of the points behind her second serve.
She will certainly need to improve on that against Puig, who at long last looks to have rediscovered the sort of form that took her to the gold medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Solid, aggressive and plugged in, the Puerto Rican, who was only unseeded player in the quarterfinals, was able to create winners from nearly anywhere. Her precision from the baseline proved too much for Collins to handle, with Puig scoring an impressive 6-3 6-2 win to secure her place in the last four. Her form this week has certainly done much to burnish the credentials of new coach Kamau Murray.
If Keys hopes to reach the final, she will need to make a fast start. Nor can she afford to falter behind her serve. Puig will likely make few errors and has the game to punish any errant shots from Keys. But if Keys can find her cross court forehand with regularity, she may well draw errors from Puig, who struggles to deal with pace into her own forehand. However, if Puig can maintain the sort of form that saw her strike 29 winners in the quarterfinals and return aggressively, she should have more than enough to reach the title match.
Prediction: Puig in two
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