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Friday at the Oracle Challenger Series Houston saw both singles third round and quarterfinal play, as a rain delay consolidated rounds into a jam-packed day of tennis at the George R. Brown Tennis Center at Rice University. The semifinals are now set, with four tour veterans proving that experience can win out.
(WC) CoCo Vandeweghe (USA) vs. (7) Stefanie Voegele (SUI)
Both Vandewegehe and Voegele have been on tour for a while, achieving success both at ITF and WTA-level events. Voegele advanced to the semifinals in Houston with a convincing 6-1, 6-2 win over New Haven finalist Usue Arconada and then a hard-fought 7-5, 6-1 victory over No.4 seed Katarina Zavatska.
“It was very close in the first set,” she said. “I was maybe a little bit too passive, but then I started to play more aggressive and it was going my way. Today was not so easy with two matches, but I feel good. I have to serve well, and when I’m doing that, it’s fine.”
She will have to be on her game to defeat former top-10 player and two-time Grand Slam semifinalist CoCo Vandeweghe, who hits the ball harder than almost anyone in the women’s game.
“When you play a big hitter, you have to move really well,” said Voegele. “Especially in the first two to three shots. You also have to remember to stay low.”
Vandeweghe also won her two matches Friday in straight sets – over Kalinina 6-3, 6-3 and Minella 6-3, 6-4.
“I was consistent,” said Vandeweghe after her quarterfinal win over Minella. “What I needed to do was take advantage of the point early, and I thought I did that really well.”
Despite the fact that both Vandeweghe and Voegele have been on the circuit for more than a decade, Saturday in Houston will mark their first-ever meeting.
“I have never played Stefanie, so I’m going in there knowing she’s right-handed and that’s about it,” joked CoCo. “I think I have to focus on me, myself and I and making sure I’m all in check and doing what I do well. If that plays into her strengths, my coach and I will hopefully notice it and make the necessary adjustments.”
(3) Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) vs. Irina Falconi (USA)
Irina Falconi has been playing spectacular tennis this week in Houston, dropping just one set en route to the semifinals. The key to her success this week? Playing freely and not allowing her opponents to play their game. This was especially evident in Friday’s third round and quarterfinals, where the American dispatched compatriots Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Taylor Townsend, two players with big serves who love to come to the net.
“Taylor’s game is one that makes you uncomfortable,” she said. “I knew going in that it probably wasn’t going to be bang-bang winner tennis, it was going to be finesse, loopy tennis. We were going to have to play the game. Neutralizing her serve and taking care of mine was important, as was making her stay back since she’s so good at the net.”
Falconi will face a familiar foe in the semifinals, Kirsten Flipkens, who she has played twice in the past. Each time, it went the distance, with Falconi winning on the grass of Eastbourne in 2015 and Flipkens winning on hardcourt in Auckland 2016.
“It’s been a long time since we played, so it’s tough for me to say,” said Flipkens, who defeated Falconi’s doubles partner Caty McNally in three sets in the quarterfinals. “But I know she likes to slice. She’s a good player and it’s going to be a fun match for us and for the crowd.”
“It’s going to be a really fun match, I think,” agreed Falconi. “It’s going to be fun tennis. This is unbelievable to be in the semifinal in my first WTA event back (from a year-long break from tennis). I’m beyond happy, but we’re not done yet.”
Play begins at 11am and is sure to be high-quality from first ball to last, with the four players in the best form this week battling for a spot in Sunday’s final.