Aryna Sabalenka spent the previous Grand Slam at her second home in Miami: Practicing, eating out and shutting the television off anytime it was tuned in to Wimbledon.
As a Belorussian, Sabalenka was banned from Wimbledon, but she’s hardly sitting it out in Flushing Meadows. The No. 6 seed roared into her second-straight U.S. Open semifinals in routing Karolina Pliskova, 6-1, 7-6 Wednesday to become the first player to advance to the semifinals.
She will face top-seeded Iga Swiatek, who defeated American Jessica Pegula, 6-3, 7-6 (4) in the night session.
Sabalenka, with high energy, overmatched Pliskova in a quick first set. The former world No. 1 from the Czech Republic failed to notch a forehand winner in the first set.
Meanwhile, Sabalenka didn’t face a break point all match, committing just three double faults — which has been her Achilles’ heel.
“I started really well, and the first set was really high level for me and put a lot of pressure on her,’’ Sabalenka said.
That Sabalenka was forced into Wimbledon exile made this that much more special.
“I had another preseason,’’ Sabalenka said. “I worked really hard, and I worked a lot on my serve.
“Yeah, it was a tough time, especially when I was working out in the gym and there was Wimbledon playing on the TV. I would always turn it off because I couldn’t watch it. But it was a tough time. I like that tournament and missed it very much.
“They took away one opportunity from me, and I work really hard for this one.”
At least she was in sunny South Beach.
“I was spending time in the good restaurants and on the beach,’’ Sabalenka said. “I mean, I like Miami. It’s beautiful.’’
Last year, Sabalenka made the Open semifinals and had to face an Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd rooting heavily for Leylah Fernandez, who was out in the second round this year.
Sabalenka nearly was wiped out here in the second round, too, but staged a miraculous rally from 6-2, 5-1, shaking off match points against Kaia Kanepi.
She avoided being the sideshow again in the semis Friday night as American Jessica Pegula, of Buffalo and Boca Raton, lost Wednesday night against No. 1 seed Iga Swiatek.
Sabalenka’s country is not denoted on any draw sheet or tour-sanctioned material as part of the sanctions against Russia and Belarus for the Ukraine invasion.
But the USTA let her play — and a 103 mph ace in the middle of the tiebreaker sealed her semifinal berth.