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Katie Volynets hangs on, reaches 1st WTA semifinal at Austin

Merida Open Akron 2023 - Day 5

MERIDA, MEXICO - FEBRUARY 22: Katie Volynets of United States plays a backhand in the second round singles match against Caty McNally of United States as part of the Merida Open Akron 2023 - Day 5 at Yucatan Country Club on February 22, 2023 in Merida, Mexico. (Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images)

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AUSTIN, Texas -- Katie Volynets reached her first WTA semifinal by taking big leads in each set and holding off reigning NCAA singles champion Peyton Stearns to win 7-5, 6-3 in a matchup between a pair of 21-year-old Americans at the ATX Open.

Volynets, a Californian who is ranked 92nd, went ahead 4-0 in the opening set, then found herself at 5-all. But she managed to run off seven games in a row from there to claim that set and lead 5-0 in the second.

Once again, things got a bit complicated against Stearns, who starred at the nearby University of Texas, helping the school win a team title in 2021 before she claimed the singles trophy last year. Stearns won two lower-level ITF events before coming to the inaugural edition of the hard-court WTA tournament in Austin, and collected her first two WTA match wins this week.

Stearns, a wild-card entry, saved one match point while Volynets served for the victory at 5-0 in the second, then broke at love when Volynets served for it again at 5-2. In the last game, Volynets needed three more match points to finally seal it, using a big forehand on the 12th stroke of a baseline exchange to draw a backhand that landed long.

Volynets was making her WTA quarterfinal debut and got there by saving a match point and erasing a 5-0 deficit in the third set against third-seeded Anastasia Potapova.

She did not want to be on the opposite end of that sort of comeback.

“I just was telling myself to keep going and to just keep playing my game. And sometimes it wasn’t happening,” said Volynets, who advanced to the third round of the Australian Open in January. “But when someone goes down (by) a big lead, sometimes there’s nothing to lose anymore. It happened to me a couple of days ago, actually. So I was just trying to stay tough.”

She meets 88th-ranked Varvara Gracheva next. Gracheva beat 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens 7-6 (4), 6-3 in the tournament’s last quarterfinal.

Eighth-seeded Marta Kostyuk made it to the final four of a tournament for the first time in 2023 by defeating Anna-Lena Friedsam 7-6 (6), 6-2. Kostyuk overcame nine double-faults and getting broken four times.

Kostyuk entered the day 0-2 in quarterfinals this season. Now she’ll try to reach the first WTA final of her career when she faces 2022 Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins.

The fourth-seeded Collins grabbed 11 of the last 12 games to come back and eliminate Anna Kalinskaya 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 in the quarterfinals.