Sabalenka fired-up by Wimbledon ban at US Open

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Aryna Sabalenka reached the US Open semi-finals for a second successive year on Wednesday, fired up by the lingering and bitter aftertaste of her Wimbledon ban.

Russian and Belarusian players, such as world number six Sabalenka, were prevented from competing at the All England Club due to the invasion of Ukraine.

The ban deprived Belarus's Sabalenka of the opportunity to improve on her semi-final run in 2021.

"They took away one opportunity from me, so I worked really hard for this one," said Sabalenka after Wednesday's 6-1, 7-6 (7/4) win over Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic.

It was Pliskova who defeated her in the Wimbledon semi-finals last year.

However, Sabalenka admitted that she made a determined effort not to watch any of this year's grass-court Grand Slam as she trained in Miami during her enforced break from the sport.

"I'm just an athlete and I have nothing to do with politics," she said.

"It was a tough time, especially when I was working out in the gym and there was Wimbledon playing on the TV.

"I always turned it off because I couldn't watch it."

Belarusian players were banned from Wimbledon because Belarus is a close ally of Russia and has allowed Moscow to use its territory to launch attacks into Ukraine.

The 24-year-old Sabalenka will face either world number one, and French Open champion, Iga Swiatek or Jessica Pegula of the United States for a place in Saturday's US Open final.

World number six Sabalenka fired seven aces and a total of 30 winners past Pliskova, the 2016 runner-up in New York, without facing a break point.

"I expected a great level with long rallies. I wanted to stay in the match and make her work," said Sabalenka.

The Belarusian has lost three times to Swiatek in 2022 without winning a set while holding a 3-1 career advantage over Pegula.

"They are both tough opponents. I will have to fight and do my best. I'm ready for a great battle," she added.

Sabalenka is making the most of her great escape in the second round in New York when she saved two match points against Kaia Kanepi having been a set and 1-5 down.

On Wednesday, she raced through the first set in just 28 minutes on the back of three service breaks.

The 30-year-old Pliskova managed just a single winner in the opener while serving up five double faults.

Czech world number 22 Pliskova saved two break points in the eighth game of the second set but was unable to halt Sabalenka's powerful drive to the last four.

"When she's playing the way she is, there are not many rallies where you can get in that better feeling. She was serving amazing," admitted Pliskova.

Swiatek is the first Polish woman to reach the last-eight in New York in the modern era and is the only player left who knows what it's like to win a major title.

The Pole has defeated Pegula twice in 2022 in her title-winning runs at Miami and Roland Garros.

Swiatek also boasts a season-leading 54 match wins, a stretch which has yielded six trophies.

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