WUHAN, China - Aryna Sabalenka continued her 2018 surge at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open, earning a seventh Top 10 win of the season with a 6-4, 2-6, 6-1 win over former World No.3 Elina Svitolina.
Unseeded in Wuhan, the Connecticut Open champion has only lost two matches against Top 10 opposition since her breakout run to the Nature Valley International final, but had to battle all the same on Tuesday, needing one hour and 51 minutes to outlast the Ukrainian on Court 1.
Sabalenka was playing just her second tournament since reaching her first Grand Slam second week at the US Open - where she narrowly lost to eventual champion Naomi Osaka.
Only one other player on Tour has more Top 10 victories this season than her, but she admitted: "I’ve not been counting! It’s always special to beat top players. I’m so happy with this result."
It is a feeling she may be getting used to after ousting Svitolina in a thrilling match.
"The first set was always up and down. I’m happy it went to me," she said. "In the second set, I relaxed a little bit, which was the key for her because she was pushing and pushing me. Then in the third set, there was no way back. I had to stay on each point. Then I started to play really well."
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After surviving Carla Suárez Navarro in a rematch of their New Haven final, the Belarusian slowly got to work on Svitolina, reeling off the final four games of the opening set to win after trailing by an early break.
Svitolina also fell in the Round of 16 in Flushing Meadows; working with esteemed coach Nick Saviano, the 24-year-old steeled herself for a decider after winning a marathon sixth game of the second set, holding onto her service break and ultimately serving out the second with some expert counterpunching.
Sabalenka's firepower began to take its toll, however, and the youngster raced out to a 5-0 lead in the final set. While Svitolina got on the board and within a point of grabbing one of the breaks back, the 20-year-old held on with the help of her fearless hitting, sealing the upset after nearly two hours.
It was another mature display from a player who has admitted she has learned a great deal about mental strength this summer.
"As long as you mentally stay in the game, you always have a chance to come back," she explained. "If you go crazy on court, you’ve got no chance. If you think about the next point, that’s the most important thing. Sometimes, not putting the ball on the line is the key."
And while the 20-year-old has big ambitions, she says that sometimes these need to be tempered.
"My goal was that I really wanted to get to Singapore but that kind of thing makes me crazy. Then I can’t put the ball in court," she confessed. "We’re only talking about keeping calm. I’m 20, it’s not important right now, I just need to play my game and keep showing my best."
Up next for the World No.20 is American qualifier Sofia Kenin, who took out Japan Women's Open champion Hsieh Su-Wei in the first round and then Julia Goerges in round two.