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Jessica Pegula upsets world No 1 Aryna Sabalenka at WTA Finals

Jessica Pegula upset Aryna Sabalenka, the world No 1, 6-4, 6-3 to win her second group stage match at the WTA Finals in Cancún. She then advanced to the semi-finals after Elena Rybakina beat Maria Sakkari 6-0, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (2).

Pegula, who came into the contest with a dismal 1-4 record against the hard-hitting Sabalenka, managed to absorb her powerful serve to extend rallies and thwart the Belarusian’s comeback attempts.

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Sabalenka, who has said she did not feel safe playing on the newly constructed Estadio Paradisus, never looked totally comfortable against Pegula, committing 29 unforced errors.

The top seed appeared set to fight back in the first set when, trailing 5-2, she pounded a thunderous forehand winner to break Pegula and backed that up with a service hold to pull within a game of the American.

But Pegula kept her cool and won the first set after a tense rally ended with a backhand into the net by Sabalenka. Pegula raced to a 4-0 lead in the second set, but Sabalenka again rallied, breaking serve to cut the lead to 5-3.

It took five match points in a marathon final game for Pegula to finally deliver the knockout punch, which came when Sabalenka shanked a backhand to give Pegula her fifth straight win over a top-10 opponent.

Pegula pushed back on the notion that her game is lacking in power compared with Sabalenka and others. “I hit hard,” she told Tennis Channel. “People don’t seem to think I hit hard, like commentators. Seriously, I don’t know why they say that. Maybe because it looks like I’m not? I hit flatter, I don’t hit as heavy as maybe as Aryna, but I hit hard.”

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The sun sets over Paradisus Cancún during the match between Pegula and Sabalenka.The sun sets over Paradisus Cancún during the match between Pegula and Sabalenka. Photograph: Jam Media/Getty Images

Pegula’s win ensured a place in the semi-finals as the fourth seed, Rybakina, shook off a late comeback attempt from Sakkari for her first win in the competition.

Rybakina routed her Greek opponent 6-0 in the first set, but Sakkari fought back, taking the subsequent sets into tie-breaks despite Rybakina’s commanding start in the third set that had her 4-2 up.

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Sakkari broke Rybakina’s serve for the first time and took the set to 6-6, but the latter remained calm to clinch the tie-break and win a hard-fought match that lasted two hours and 26 minutes.

“I felt at the beginning, for Maria, maybe it took her some time to get used to my speed,” Rybakina said about the one-sided first set. “As we all know, the surface is not the greatest. We’re struggling, all of us.”

The Kazakhstani world No 4 will take on Sabalenka on Thursday in a battle for a place in the semis, while Pegula will face Sakkari in their final group stage match.

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