Not only did 74th-ranked Sorana Cirstea of Romania upset World No. 2 Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka on Wednesday at a Miami Open quarterfinal to reach her first semifinal in a Masters 1000-level tournament in 10 years, she did it as one of the oldest women on the WTA Tour.
The 32-year-old Cirstea — turning 33 a week from Friday — is not exactly ancient, but her 6-4, 6-4 triumph over 24-year-old Sabalenka at Hard Rock Stadium in their first career meeting was evidence her game is getting stronger after winning three of her past four matches against top-four opponents. Sabalenka is the highest-ranked player Cirstea has defeated since turning pro in 2006.
“I had confidence in my game,” said Cirstea, who will advance to a semifinal over the not-before 3 p.m. Thursday quarterfinal winner of No. 18 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova vs. No. 15 Petra Kvitova. “I knew I was playing well and knew if I come out swinging and being aggressive I have my chance. This gives me a lot of confidence.’’
Ranked as high as No. 21 in 2013 after losing to No. 1 Serena Williams in the Toronto final, Cirstea also defeated World No. 4 Caroline Garcia of France in the second round last week, as well as Garcia in the previous tournament at Indian Wells. She has won two lower-level tournaments (2008 Tashkent Open and 2021 İstanbul Cup) and five doubles titles, and is the lowest ranked woman left in the singles main draw.
Cirstea barely broke a sweat Wednesday afternoon in the first match on Stadium Court, as an obviously frustrated Sabalenka appeared to wilt <FZ,1,0,109>under temperatures in the mid-80s and high humidity that turned into a two-hour rain delay in the second set of the men’s match between 11th-ranked Jannik Sinner of Italy and unseeded Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland.
Sinner went on to easily win 6-3, 6-1 and will face in a Friday semifinal the not-before 7 p.m. Thursday winner of the quarterfinal match between World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz and No. 10 Taylor Fritz. The Alcaraz-Fritz match was postponed late Wednesday because of rain.
In the women’s opener, Sabalenka repeatedly smacked her racket to the ground in anger. Cirstea, across the court, pumped her fist with each winner. At times during changeovers, Sabalenka draped an orange towel over her head or used ice packs to cool off. Cirstea was asked if she was trying to take advantage of her opponent’s fatigue.
“To be honest, no, I did not realize,” she said. “I’m quite lucky throughout my career. I never had problems with the heat. I never cramp. I like playing in the heat. So I think today, for me, it was just another day at the job. Of course I think it’s a definite advantage, and throughout the years I never really paid attention to it.
“But lately I’m starting to realize that I’m a bit better than most of the girls with playing in the heat.”
Sabalenka declined to speak to the media but gave comments to a WTA representative: “It definitely wasn’t my best match,’’ she sad. “I was struggling a lot with the conditions, like heat. I felt like balls were flying too much and I couldn’t find control. Was just trying to do my best till the last point.”
Of the age factor, Cirstea acknowledged that victories like Wednesday’s might serve to inspire other women who want to play longer.
“I started very young,” she said. “By 17 I was top 100, and with 18 I finished the year I think 30-something. So I definitely started very well. If you’d have asked me back then, I mean, I would say by 30 I wouldn’t probably be playing anymore.
“But then of course with the years you start to mature, you start to enjoy the game a bit more, so right now I’m really enjoying tennis probably in a way that when I was 20 I didn’t really enjoy it. ... I’m very proud of my mind-set, I’m very proud of my work ethic, I’m very proud of my discipline, and also my belief, because I always believed that my game can do damage. I always believed that with this game I can do great things.”
No matter how old she is, Cirstea will continue to savor ice cream cones. She said her mother and father own “a little ice cream factory” back in Romania.
“That’s my favorite, of course, dessert,” Cirstea said. “I grew up with ice cream summer [and] winter.”
Her favorite flavors: “Vanilla, coconut, pistachio,” she said. “That’s the trio for me.”write here...
As the clock stuck midnight Tuesday because of the hours-long rain delay, 6-foot-7 qualifier Christopher Eubanks was wrapping up his thrilling 7-6 (2), 7-6 (5) victory over Frenchman Adrian Mannarino to reach his first career Masters 1000 quarterfinal.
He’ll meet fifth-ranked Daniiel Medvedev, the No. 4 seed, in a 1 p.m. Thursday quarterfinal.
Eubanks, a 26-year-old Atlanta native currently ranked No. 119, will be ranked in the mid-80s when the next rankings are released on Monday. Against Mannarino, Eubanks hit 12 aces, saved 8-of-9 break points and ripped 38 winners, mostly from his forehand side.
Prior to this tournament, Eubanks, who trains with his “little sister” Coco Gauff every December, had never won three consecutive matches in an ATP Tour level event. He had lost in the first round of his previous five events.
“Ain’t no crying,’’ Eubanks said as he walked into his early Wednesday morning press conference. “This feels great. Just something about all the delays and stopping and starting, the warming up and cooling down, it makes a match like this even sweeter, and to think it’s my first Masters 1000 quarterfinal is really special.”
Eubanks, a two-time All-American at Georgia Tech, is already assured a $184,465 payday.
▪ No. 3 Jessica Pegula needed three sets and had to save two match points at 15-40, 4-5 of the third set before wrapping up a 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (2) victory over Russian Anastasia Potapova.
Pegula became the first American woman to reach back-to-back Miami semifinals since Serena Williams did it in 2014-15.
“I haven’t been this physically tired in just a really long time,’’ said Pegula, who has two career titles but no Grand Slams or Masters 1000 triumphs. “It was just pure will and it means a lot.”
Pegula certainly didn’t hit any traffic in her ride home to Boca Raton. She next plays red-hot No. 10 Elena Rybakina, who’s on a 12-win match streak, in a late-night Thursday semifinal.
▪ Medvedev needed just 71 minutes to defeat Frenchman qualifier Quentin Halys, 6-4, 6-2 in a match that ended about 1:30 a.m. The lanky Russian has won one major and four Masters 1000 tournaments, but is in just his second quarterfinal in Miami (2021). Medvedev smacked 30 winners to just five unforced errors.
Also advancing to the quarters was 25th seed Argentine Francisco Cerundolo after a three-set victory over Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego. Cerundolo who stunned No. 5 Felix Auger-Aliasime in the third round, is attempting to match his career-breakthrough run to the semis here last year.
Miami Herald writer Harvey Fialkov contributed to this report.