By sportswriters Spencer Musick and Michael Butterworth
WUHAN, China, Sept. 26 (Xinhua) -- The quarterfinals of the 2019 Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open here on Thursday saw one major top-flight casualty, while the other seeded players advanced with varying degrees of difficulty.
The first match on tap saw world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty move into the semifinals for the third straight time in Wuhan, needing a tiebreak and deciding set to move past Croatia's Petra Martic, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-3.
The two players traded breaks out of the gate, but Barty was the sharper of the two initially, hitting solid groundstrokes off the backhand side that gave the initial impression she had shaken off her tendency to need time to warm into form seen in her earlier matches here.
But then she seemed to snap out of the match, letting a 4-1 lead evaporate off some very tight serving from the Croatian.
Martic's strong serving continued into the second, three aces and 71 percent first service shooting being, enough to take the match to a decider.
"Petra served exceptionally well in that second set. Really didn't give me a look at all. It was about trying to bide my time as much as I could, and waiting for an opportunity if I got one," Barty said.
Barty was able to string it all back together in the third to continue her unbeaten record against Martic, firing off 39 winners on 73 percent first service shooting over the course of the two hour, 22 minute showdown.
Up next for Barty is a repeat her semifinal meeting last year against defending champion Arnya Sabalenka, who dropped a breadstick second set but raced to victory by dishing one out in return to Kazak wildcard entry Elena Rybakina in a 6-3, 1-6, 6-1.
The first set was the Belarussian's show from the outset; she broke Rybakina's service and went on to keep a firm grip on the proceedings, holding all of her own services with aggressive forehand play down the line.
But the Kazak flipped the script in the second, firing off 10 winners on 82 percent first service shooting, storming to a 5-point lead and force a decider that Sabalenka would dominate.
When backed into a corner, Sabalenka can be a dangerous opponent and that was the case here; she never faced break point herself while putting her opponent two breaks down and never looked back from there.
Next on center court, Czech no. 7 Petra Kvitova will return to the semifinals after logging a decisive 6-2, 6-4 win over Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine.
Kvitova, who is yet to drop a set this year in Wuhan, never let the match be in any doubt, lobbing 14 winners only facing break point once in the second set while getting four against her opponent.
Next for Kvitova is world No. 35 Alison Riske of the United States, who clobbered world No. 3 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine 6-1, 6-3 in the late session on center court.
The opening game was a battle of attrition that appeared to put dark storm clouds over the rest of the match for Svitolina. The players fought back and forth at deuce for 12 minutes, with Svitolina brought to break point 6 times before Riske converted with domineering and steady groundstrokes off the forehand.
She would go on to break her opponent two more times on the way to the first set rout highlighted by crafty, aggressive play at the net from the American. Svitolina, by contrast, appeared glued to the baseline and unable to keep up pace with her opponent at key points.
Although it was Svitolina who drew first blood in the second with a break to go up 2-1, Riske would respond with two breaks of her own and seal the next three consecutive games in a row to go up 5-2. Although Svitolina held serve to 5-3, Riske was undeterred, and served out the set to pull off her first career win against Svitolina.
In doubles action, some good news for the home crowd here in Wuhan: Yang Zhaoxuan and Duan Yingying each advanced with their respective partners and will play each other in the semifinals, ensuring that there will be a Chinese player in the doubles final.
Yang and her partner Makoto Ninomiya of Japan downed Nicole Melichar and Kveta Peschke 6-4, 6-7(4), 10-6.
Yang/Ninomiya appeared to be sailing through with relative ease, serving for the match when 5-2 up in the second set. However, after a lackluster start to the set, Melichar and Peschke suddenly sprang into life, winning the next four games to force a tiebreak which they won 7-4.
Undeterred at having failed to close the game out in straight sets, Yang/Ninomiya rallied in the decider, taking control at 5-5 to close out the set 10-6.
Yang/Ninomiya now face off against Duan and her partner Veronika Kudermetova of Russia, after they defeated Nadiia Kichenok and Abigail Spears 6-4, 7-6(2).
Elsewhere in the draw, No. 4 seeds and defending champions Anna-Lena Groenfeld and Demi Schuurs eased past the Chinese Taipei duo of Chan Hao-Ching and Latisha Chan 6-1, 6-1.
The 2018 Wuhan Open doubles champs now face a semifinal against 2018 Wuhan Open singles champion Aryna Sabalenka and her partner Elise Mertens, who beat 2017 singles champ Caroline Garcia and partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands 7-5, 6-3.