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Cirstea saves 6 match points in Dubai quarterfinals win over Vondrousova

Sorana Cirstea

Sorana Cirstea hits a shot during her quarterfinal loss to Iga Swiatek during the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, Calif., March 16, 2023.

Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun/Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY NETWORK

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova lost from 6-2, 5-1 ahead against Sorana Cirstea in the Dubai Championships quarterfinals.

Vondrousova blew six match points in losing 2-6, 7-6 (1), 6-2.

Cirstea also won her two most recent matchups with Vondrousova but the 18-year tour pro from Romania admitted she thought she was going to lose heavily in Dubai.

“This has to be the biggest comeback of my career,” Cirstea said. “To be honest, at a set and 5-1, I wasn’t really thinking about winning anymore. I was like, make it nicer for the public, try to make it a little bit longer, try to give them a little bit of nicer tennis. I still don’t know how I managed it.”

She started swinging freely while No. 7-seeded Vondrousova gradually grew more passive.

Cirstea saved two match points at 5-1 down with aces. At 5-2, she saved another with a drive volley as she took control of the center of the court.

Two more match points were denied at 5-3 on serve. Vondrousova served for the match a third time at 6-5 but Cirstea wrong-footed the Czech to rub out a sixth match point.

Cirstea rode the momentum through the tiebreaker and third set.

Ranked 22, Cirstea ensured an unseeded player will reach the final. She faces Jasmine Paolini of Italy, ranked 26, in the semifinals.

Paolini advanced from her first quarterfinal of the year thanks to a walkover after No. 4 Elena Rybakina withdrew because of a stomach illness. Rybakina believed she’d just become run down on the Middle East swing after winning Abu Dhabi, reaching the Doha final last week and winning two more singles in Dubai.

No. 1-ranked Iga Swiatek took out Australian Open finalist Zheng Qinwen 6-3, 6-2. Swiatek saved all three break points she faced and broke Zheng three times. The Pole improved her record against Zheng to 6-0.

Swiatek has a semifinal against No. 3 Coco Gauff or qualifier Anna Kalinskaya.