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Sorana Cirstea Surprises Aryna Sabalenka for Maiden Miami Semifinal

Sorana Cirstea of Romania celebrates reaching the Miami Open semifinals. Photo by Robert Prange/Getty Images

The service box seemed to shrink to the size of a mail box.

Aryna Sabalenka couldn’t make the delivery fit.

Australian Open champion Sabalenka surrendered three service breaks on double faults and Sorana Cirstea countered with timely strikes stunning the second seed 6-4, 6-4 to streak into the Miami Open semifinals.

When Sabalenka’s final shot sailed long, Cirstea stood frozen for a second, soaking in the moment of her biggest career win, by ranking, over the world No. 2 before breaking into a satisfied smile toward coach Thomas Johansson.

“I think I am speechless,” Cirstea told Andrew Krasny afterward. “I came out knowing that it’s gonna be a really tough match. Aryna hits  so hard so I knew I had to hold my ground.

“I’m very, very happy with my performance today and a bit surprised to be honest.”

World No. 74 Cirstea improved to 11-6 on the season reaching her second career WTA 1000 semifinal nearly 10 years after she was Toronto runner-up to Serena Williams. Sabalenka dropped to 20-3 in 2023 with Elena Rybakina, Barbora Krejcikova and Cirstea the only three players to beat the Belarusian.

The winner of nine of her last 10 matches, Cirstea credits the offseason work she did with coach and former Australian Open champion Johansson with her recent run of success.

“So far, I think it’s going great,” Cirstea said of her partnership with Johansson, a man who served bigger than his size suggests.”I guess people like to keep out count of the age, the years [on Tour], the results.

“But I don’t do that. I just mind my own business, do my work and believe in my game. I’m not defined by numbers.” 

Contesting her 13th Miami Open, Cirstea has played like a Top 25 player she once was in South Florida. Cirstea will face the winner of tonight’s quarterfinal, either two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova or No. 18-seeded Ekaterina Alexandrova, for a place in the final.

Moving fluidly and applying sharp angles wisely, Cirstea has not dropped a set knocking off a series of accomplished players, including fifth-seeded Caroline Garcia, former Australian Open semifinalist Karolina Muchova, former French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova and the red-hot Sabalenka, who was coming off a run to the Indian Wells final.

Cirstea, who celebrates her 33rd birthday on April 7th, never panicked in the face of Sabalenka’s sheer power and her willingness to stand in and face the fire frustrated the big-hitting Belarusian into some wild errors. Cirstea hit 16 winners against only 9 errors in 20 games, while Sabalenka smacked 21 winners and scattered 21 unforced errors.