HOBART, Tasmania - 19-year-old Aryna Sabalenka stunned No.1 seed Zhang Shuai in a tough straight sets battle to reach the quarterfinals at the Hobart International.
Playing ultra-aggressive from the start, Sabalenka weathered comeback after comeback from the tenacious Zhang and completed the 7-6(3), 6-4 upset in an hour and 35 minutes.
“It was a really good fight between us,” Sabalenka said in her post-match press conference. “This was a match that I really enjoyed. She fights for every point, and it’s always so special when you feel this fight on court.”
Sabalenka recovered from an early break down in the opening set by reeling off four games in a row, leaving the Chinese woman playing catch up for most of the opening set. She built up a 5-2 lead just as Zhang roared back to life, breaking Sabalenka before clawing back from a 0-40 game to hold serve, dodging five set points and stay in the set, leveling the match at 5-5.
Zhang stayed alive and saved another set point before heading into the tiebreaker. Although Zhang saved another two in the decider - for a total of eight set points saved - Sabalenka stayed cool and finally edged through to take the opening set.
In contrast to the rollercoaster opening set - which saw 19 break chances created between the two players - the second set was decided by just one break. Sabalenka converted on her first opportunity and grabbed the decisive break at 4-3, dodging two chances for Zhang to break back.
The Chinese player dug deep to save three match points on her own serve and extend her stay in the match, but it was short-lived as Sabalenka clinically served it out in the next game to advance.
Sabalenka never wavered from her high-intensity strategy; she struck 37 winners and 39 unforced errors to Zhang’s 19 and 26. Zhang’s strong serving bailed her out in a lot of spots - she hit eight aces and won 68% of points on her first serve - but it was Sabalenka’s risk-taking that ultimately bore the rewards, converting on three of the 18 break chances she created.
“It’s always special when you beat two good players in a row in the same tournament,” she said, recalling her first-round victory over Eugenie Bouchard. “It gives me more confidence. You finish the match and you really just think, ‘When is the next one? I wanna go back on court, I want to beat someone!’”
Up next, Sabalenka takes on No.5 seed Lesia Tsurenko in the quarterfinals - the Ukrainian dismissed the always-tricky Yulia Putintseva in straight sets yesterday, 6-3, 6-2.
Also through, Alison Riske received a walkover from Belgian qualifier Kirsten Flipkens, who had to withdraw from the tournament due to a right shoulder injury. Qualifier Heather Watson also moves on after breezing past Australian wildcard Jaimee Fourlis 6-2, 6-2. Riske will take on Mihaela Buzarnescu, while Watson faces Donna Vekic in the quarterfinals.