CINCINNATI, OH, USA -- Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus executed a comeback win over British No.1 Johanna Konta in the first round of the Western & Southern Open on Monday, triumphing 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 after a hard-hitting affair.
In the first meeting between the two players, the rising 20-year-old, ranked World No.34, eventually overpowered former World No.4 Konta to come back from a set and a break down and emerge victorious after two hours and 25 minutes of play.
Sabalenka will now await the winner of Tuesday's match between No.9 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic and Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, as that match between former WTA Top 2 players will determine her second-round opponent.
A fiery opening set went with serve for the first six games before Konta gained the initial break at 3-3 after a Sabalenka forehand flew long on break point. But the Belarusian quickly leveled the set at 4-4 after Konta’s forehand went awry.
A marathon game then ensued, as Konta reached triple break point with a backhand winner down the line, but steely Sabalenka staved off all three, then a fourth with a big serve that forced a netted return. But Konta reached a fifth break point, and converted it after her solid defense in a hard-hitting rally was polished off by a forehand in the corner forcing an error from Sabalenka.
Konta then had to get through another difficult game to close out the set, withstanding big service returns and three break points to wrap up another protracted game, and, with it, the set. Konta had 13 winners to only eight unforced errors in the opening frame.
Konta seemingly kept the momentum at the start of the second set, taking a 3-1 lead with a break of the Sabalenka serve after the Belarusian double faulted on break point. But Konta’s unforced error count mounted as the set progressed, and the Brit fired two double faults at 3-2 en route to being broken for 3-3.
The Konta double faults continued to be an issue in the latter stages of the set, as she hit two consecutively at 4-3 to give Sabalenka break point. An increasingly confident Sabalenka smashed a powerful forehand on the next point, forcing an error and giving her a 5-3 lead.
Sabalenka completed the second-set turnaround by holding at love with an ace, winning the final five games to take the set 6-3 and level the match at one set apiece. Sabalenka kept her unforced error count low in the set, matching her eight miscues with eight winners, while Konta had 11 unforced errors compared to six winners.
Both players had chances to take an early lead in the decider, but break points were fended off by both players in the first six games before Konta threw in a shocker of a service game at 3-3, falling behind 0-40, then double faulting once more to hand the crucial break over to Sabalenka.
The Belarusian almost broke for the match, holding three match points on Konta’s serve at 5-3 before the Brit extricated herself from that predicament with well-timed strong deliveries to hold on for 5-4.
But Sabalenka was not fazed by having to close out the match on her own serve, firing an ace to garner two more match points. On the first, Konta shot a backhand return long, and Sabalenka raised her arms in triumph as she reached the second round in Cincinnati.