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On Friday night, 21-year-old American qualifier Katie Volynets made history by beating reigning NCAA singles champion Peyton Stearns 7-5, 6-3 to advance at the inaugural ATX Open in Austin.
Next up for her is 88th-ranked Varvara Gracheva, who upset defending champion Sloane Stephens 7-6 (4), 6-3 in the previous quarterfinal.
Katie Volynets made history at Austin by reaching her first WTA semifinal, defeating reigning NCAA singles champion Peyton Stearns 7-5 6-3. The 92nd-ranked American took command of each set and held off a comeback attempt from Stearns, who had won two ITF events before arriving in Austin.
Stearns, 21 years old, won the first set and was 5-0 up in the second when she found herself down by a break at 3-2. But she came back to win four straight games to take control of the match and secure victory.
Stearns, who won the ITA National Singles title for University of Texas in 2022, is a three-time Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) All-American and was named 2022 Big 12 Player of the Year and Big 12 Championship Most Outstanding Player. Additionally, her doubles partner Allura Zamarripa earned ITA Doubles All-America honors this season.
Volynets had made history earlier in the week when she saved a match point and overcame a 5-0 deficit to defeat third-seeded Anastasia Potapova on Wednesday. To reach her first WTA semifinal, Volynets grabbed seven games in a row - including 27 of 32 points - for her first victory over a top-10 player.
She will play 88th-ranked Varvara Gracheva of Russia in the next round. Gracheva upset Anna Blinkova 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-1 while Stearns upset Sweden's Mirjam Bjorklund 3-6, 7-5 in another match between wild-card recipients.
Volynets, ranked 92nd in the world, made her WTA quarterfinal debut and saved two match points against Stearns to take control of the match at 5-3. In the third set she broke at love when serving for victory at 5-2 and needed three more match points on 12th stroke of exchange to draw backhand that landed long. Volynets finished strong by using big forehand on 12th stroke for an unforced error on her backhand that won the match 5-2.
Volynets and Stearns' winning match will advance them to a semifinal at the ATX Open in Austin, which is a first-time major for American Alycia Parks. She hopes to continue her remarkable run after winning 7 of her last 10 matches.
Katie Volynets of Austin, Texas held on to reach her first WTA semifinal on Wednesday by rallying from a 5-0 deficit in the third set and saving a match point before defeating Anastasia Potapova 5-7, 6-2, 7-5. Originally from California, Volynets is ranked 92nd and qualified for the Australian Open where she made it past qualifying round two for the first time ever. In January she qualified for her first Grand Slam tournament - reaching the third round at the Australian Open!
She faces a formidable opponent in the quarterfinals: Magda Linette. Her career-high ranking at the WTA is 21 and she reached her first singles semifinal in Australia last February.
In 2023, the Polish professional has an impressive 10-4 win-loss record on hard courts (click here to view her full career records). She has won seven of her last 10 matches and reached the semifinals of Australia in 2023.
In her other matches this season, Nao Hibino and Linda Noskova have both been defeated. At present, Noskova holds a commanding 6-3, 4-2 lead over Hibino after Hibino retired with an injury.
Stearns is a 21-year-old wild card from Texas who won the NCAA singles championship for the University of Texas last year. This week she has added two lower level ITF events and her first WTA match wins to her resume.
Volynets faces a daunting challenge after winning her opening two matches, as the 21-year-old is an aggressive hitter with plenty of spin. Her opponent has had recent setbacks after enjoying success in the spring but remains undefeated at present.
On a positive note, she's played well against some of the top-10 players this season, such as Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Anett Kontaveit. Additionally, she won her first title of the year in Istanbul before adding another on red clay at Hamburg.
She's a reliable player who can score some impressive points on the court, so it won't come as any shock to see her in a quarterfinal match at a major. This season, she has won seven of her 10 matches and should be considered an automatic semifinalist in any tournament she has never before participated in.
On Friday in Austin, Texas (AP), Katie Volynets made it to her first WTA semifinal by holding off reigning NCAA singles champion Peyton Stearns 7-5, 6-3. Next up for her is 88th-ranked Varvara Gracheva who she beat last week to reach this stage.
Gracheva upset top-seeded Magda Linette 3-6, 4-6, 6-4 in the opening round. She earned consecutive service breaks late in the third set to secure victory; saving 10 of 14 break points and converting her sixth of 12 break chances.
This match featured two players who hadn't faced off on hard courts at a major tournament since last year's Australian Open quarterfinals, nor in an official WTA main-draw match.
Gracheva, the 88th-ranked Russian, had been struggling lately and hadn't won a match since her third-round loss to Lucrezia Stefanini at the Australian Open. But on Saturday she got back on track with an impressive 7-6 (4), 6-3 win over 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens.
Volynets took a commanding lead in both sets against Stearns, and she held on to hold off on her serve to earn her first WTA match win. She won eight of her 13 service games without facing a break point in the opening set, though she did miss two set points during the tiebreaker in the second. However, Volynets rallied to win four straight games to advance through to the fourth set.
Anna Blinkova, another woman who had never played against Gracheva before in a WTA main-draw match, made history on Friday when she won the ATX Open final with an epic 6-7 (6), 6-2, 6-1 victory over Anna-Lena Friedsam. Despite nine double-faults and numerous broken serves throughout the contest, Blinkova managed to advance.
Gracheva is a strong contender to win this match and could potentially advance to face Anastasia Potapova in the next round. She holds a 2-0 head-to-head record against Potapova and has gone 7-3 on hard courts over the past 10 years; however, Gracheva must maintain her composure against an American who is riding high on five match wins in a row.
Zhang Shuai maintained her impressive streak on hard courts this week, reaching the final in Lyon where she easily defeated Dayana Yastremska 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 to claim her third career title.
She was also a doubles finalist at the Australian Open this year, teaming up with Sam Stosur to win their maiden major title. Together with Zheng Jie, Peng Shuai and Wang Qiang, she is one of only five Chinese players to reach either major singles or doubles final in their career.
Her 6-2, 7-6(1) victory over Sorana Cirstea in the opening round of the Western & Southern Open was her biggest singles triumph this season. Additionally, she earned a ranking of top 10 doubles players this year, reaching her first WTA Finals semifinal.
The Romanian, who has consistently ranked among the top 200 players for much of her career, was considered a longshot to make it to the final in Austin. However, she upset Shelby Rogers, Aleksandra Krunic and Donna Vekic in qualifiers to reach her fifth main draw of the season.
After an inconsistent start to the season that saw her lose in both Indian Wells and the Australian Open, Zhang has now reached two semifinals consecutively. Additionally, she's on a six match winning streak - an impressive improvement from her 0-6 record this year.
Zhang has won three straight sets and never dropped a set during that stretch. She is now ranked eighth in doubles and on track to reach top-10 doubles ranking by year's end - her highest ranking and first final since winning the Australian Open with Stosur in 2021.
On the contrary, Sorana Cirstea has a very inconsistent game. She still has a long way to go before she can challenge for top-10 honors, but her grass court game will be key in her success.
Zhang will be making her first match against Cirstea and hopes that having experience will help her prepare. However, Cirstea must overcome her struggles if she hopes to reach the finals of her first main draw in Texas.