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Top seed Aryna Sabalenka advances to final four in Cancún

A rain-delayed victory in the WTA Finals has moved Aryna Sabalenka to the verge of wrapping up the tour’s season-ending No 1 ranking.

Top seed Sabalenka completed a 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 win over fourth-seeded Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan to clinch a semi-final spot at Cancún, Mexico.

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Should Sabalenka beat second-seeded Iga Świątek of Poland, the Belarusian would be assured of ending the year on top of the ratings.

Sabalenka, the reigning Australian Open champion, wound up with a 2-1 record in the Bacalar Group, coming in second behind fifth-seeded Jessica Pegula (3-0). The other semi-final will feature Pegula and third-seeded Coco Gauff in an all-American encounter.

In the final two matches of the Chetumal Group, Świątek completed a 3-0 run by routing sixth-seeded Ons Jabeur of Tunisia 6-1, 6-2. Gauff took second in the group by rallying for a 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-3 win over seventh-seeded Markéta Vondroušová of the Czech Republic.

Rybakina lost two of her three matches, finishing third in the Chetumal Group at 1-2. Eighth-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece wound up 0-3.

Sabalenka led Rybakina 6-2, 3-5 when play was suspended on Thursday. Rybakina closed out the second set, but Sabalenka broke serve to open the third set and wasn’t challenged after that.

“Was really tough battle in really tough conditions,” Sabalenka said. “I’m super happy that I was able to get this win no matter what.”

Gauff won just one of 11 second-serve points and just 39 per cent of her service points overall in the first set against Vondroušová before her game picked up.

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Gauff wound up with the win despite committing 38 unforced errors to Vondroušová’s 25, a differential that wasn’t offset by Gauff’s 31-25 edge in winners.

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“I felt like I needed to hit through the court,” Gauff said. “She’s a very tricky player. When you play her pace and let her move you side to side, it’s tough. And I played her, it’s my third time, so I know that.

“But obviously, in the wind, it’s tough to be as aggressive as you want, because the bounces are weird and the ball was moving. So I’m glad I made that adjustment and didn’t get too frustrated when I missed. You pay the price for hopefully a good reward.”

Pegula holds a 2-1 head-to-head edge against Gauff, with the pair having split two matches this year. Świątek and Sabalenka also have split two matches in 2023, leaving Świątek with a career 5-3 advantage.