STRASBOURG, France - No.4 seed Aryna Sabalenka made a strong start to her Internationaux de Strasbourg campaign, needing two sets and just over an hour to move past qualifier Ellen Perez to reach the second round.
Sabalenka took an early 3-0 lead in both sets against Perez, last year’s doubles champion in Strasbourg along with fellow Aussie Daria Gavrilova, who is still seeking the first main draw singles win of her career.
Perez fought her way back into the match but couldn’t overcome Sabalenka’s firepower, and the 2020 Doha champion broke the Perez serve four times and won 70% of points behind her first serves en route to a 6-4, 6-3 victory in just 69 minutes.
“I [knew] I had to play really well, keep my level up,” Sabalenka said in her post-match press conference. “I would say I was delivering this game. But actually it was a lot ups and downs, maybe because of expectations I was playing a little bit too calm [at the beginning].
“I tried my best to come back with my ‘fight’ spirit and just fight for every point. It worked really well, and I’m happy that I got this win.”
Last year, Sabalenka reached her second career clay court semifinal in Strasbourg, and she looked right at home once again against qualifier Perez. She covered the court with ease and forced Perez to go for bigger shots and quickly drew out the unforced errors, breaking early to take a 3-0 lead.
But while Sabalenka had allowed the Aussie only two points in the first three games, Perez stayed patient and got her name on the scoreboard with two holds to love - fighting through serve woes that saw her land 44% of first serves in the first set. She raised her level, taking advantage of a wobbly Sabalenka to break at 4-3.
Sabalenka stayed calm and continued to apply the scoreboard pressure as Perez trailed on serve, breaking serve once more to close out the set, 6-4.
The Belarusian might have felt a sense of deja vu as the second set unfolded in the same fashion, with Sabalenka breaking the vulnerable Perez serve in the second game to start with a 3-0 lead. Once again, Perez got the break back a few games later to get them on serve at 3-2 - but this time her joy was short-lived as Sabalenka powered to an emphatic break to love to slam the door shut on the Aussie’s comeback bid.
“I was just trying to keep playing in every point, and keep enjoying just being on the court,” Sabalenka said. “I was trying stay in the rallies as much as I can and try to move her. And also just try to be ‘me’ on the court - a little bit more aggressive. That helped me to close it out.”
Into the second round, Sabalenka awaits the winner between Anna Blinkova and French lucky loser Myrtille Georges for a shot at the quarterfinals.
“I just want to find the right game for the clay court and the right rhythm, and I just want to find myself in this tournament,” she said. “I want to go as far as I can, that’s why we’re here.”
After the match, Sabalenka also confirmed the end of her coaching partnership with Dieter Kindlmann after the US Open.
“I told him that I think I’m not ready for a new person on my team,” she explained. “He’s a great guy, great coach, but I’m just not ready. I’m going to work with my hitting partner for now as my coach.”