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Strycova, Rybarikova advance to Birmingham semis

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BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — Barbora Strycova closed in on a third Birmingham Classic final after avenging herself on Lesia Tsurenko on Friday.

Boosted from beating Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza on Thursday, Strycova prevailed 7-5, 3-0 when Tsurenko quit with a painful left hip.

The industrious, hard-running Ukrainian threatened to frustrate Strycova with slow-paced, cleverly varied consistency. But winning will harden the Czech’s belief that even at 32 there is still time for more fine deeds on grass, on which her ability to slice, to chip and charge, and to win points at the net often makes her dangerous.

It was a contrast to Strycova’s only previous encounter with Tsurenko, three years ago on the slow hard courts of New Haven, where she was able to win only three games.

This time she broke serve in the third game with two brilliantly contrasting forehands – the first pulled across court and the second deviously maneuvered inside out. Despite one or two typically vocal outbursts at the containment Tsurenko sometimes imposed on her, she had by the time of the retirement developed a patient attacking pattern.

“It was an unfortunate way to win,” Strycova saidd. “But I feel I had worked out a way to play her. I am very happy to have reached my first semifinal of the year, and I hope to go further but I know that will be difficult.”

That is because she plays one of her friends, Magdalena Rybarikova, the 2009 champion who progressed past surprise packet Dalila Jakupovic 6-2, 6-4.

The Slovenian was playing her sixth match after working her way through the qualifying competition, and briefly looked as though she might cause another surprise when she saved three match points in the penultimate game before earning a point to break Rybarikova’s serve for 5-5.

There was cause for Rybarikova to be concerned in those few moments, for Jakupovic saved four match points while coming from a set down to beat the seventh-seeded Elise Mertens in the first round.

But Rybarikva continued to play a slow-paced, relaxed, and cerebral game, liberally sprinkled with slices and ambushes at the net, and denied Jakupovic her break back point with a fiercely cut half-court backhand. Rybarikova then closed out the match with the help of two well-placed serves.

It was another steady achievement for a player who was outside the top 400 a year ago after wrist and knee surgery and is now in the world’s top 20. It perhaps made Rybarikova slight favorite to reach the final in her bid to regain the title.

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