STRASBOURG, France - No.4 seed Aryna Sabalenka dodged an upset at the Internationaux de Strasbourg after having to come back from a set down against Anna Blinkova to reach the quarterfinals.
Sabalenka struggled to find her footing in one-sided opening set and trailed in the second, but World No.12 Sabalenka completed the turnaround to win 1-6, 6-4, 6-2.
“After the first set, I’m really proud of myself that I found my game,” Sabalenka said after the match. “I fight through everything, and through the work I found my rhythm. I’m really happy with the match.
“She played really well, she pushed me a lot and I’m happy that I could handle it.”
The victory sent the Doha champion into her first quarterfinal since the WTA season’s restart. Sabalenka had previously reached three quarterfinals or in 2020, including deep runs in Adelaide and Dubai - but struggled to return to her winning ways after the five-month layoff. She claimed just three wins across Lexington, Cincy and the US Open, but finally recorded back-to-back victories after a hard-fought win in Strasbourg.
“Before, if I was just playing like I did in the first set, I’m rushing a lot and getting more and more nervous,” she reflected. “In this match, I found that I just need to slow down a little bit and just try to stay in the rallies as much as I can. I’m proud of myself that after the first set I could handle it.”
Her opponent Blinkova was coming off a strong showing last week in Rome, where the 22-year-old battled through the qualifying rounds and knocked out Lexington finalist Jil Teichmann and Aliona Bolsova before falling to Karolina Pliskova in the round of 16 - just the second time she has recorded back-to-back main draw victories at a Premier event.
Blinkova made a confident start against Sabalenka, dominating the rallies as she weathered the Belarusian’s booming groundstrokes, forcing Sabalenka to go for bigger shots and commit unforced errors. The Russian had opened up a 4-0 with back-to-back breaks of serve before Sabalenka finally got her name on the scoreboard. But she couldn’t deal damage to the Blinkova serve as she served out the first set, 6-1.
Sabalenka put the opening set behind her and kept Blinkova under pressure to earn her first break of the match and lead 1-0. Even as Blinkova broke straight back, the momentum seemed to shift to Sabalenka as the Belarusian raised her level and started to fire winners off both wings.
Sabalenka earned a crucial break at 4-3 after a marathon game that went to deuce three times as Blinkova fought to halt her opponent’s momentum. But there was no slowing down Sabalenka as she served out the set, 6-4, and grabbed an early break for a 3-1 lead in the second. She employed her signature relentless attacking tennis to break once again, 5-2, and comfortably closed out the match after nearly two hours on court.
“I came back after the first set and started playing more through the cross-court just to find my rhythm,” Sabalenka explained. “Just tried to stay in the rallies as long as I could just to find my rhythm back. And I did that well.
“There was a few points in that set that turned around the match, and I handled that really well.”
Sabalenka fired 27 winners across the three sets, outpacing Blinkova’s 18, and kept a tighter differential to her 32 unforced errors - most coming in the opening set - and Blinkova’s own 27 unforced errors.
The Belarusian will face Katerina Siniakova in the next round, after the Czech upset No.7 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-2, 6-4 earlier in the day to advance to her first WTA singles quarterfinal of the season.
“She’s moving really well and she’s playing quite flat,” Sabalenka said. “I would say she was really consistent today, she’s moving to the net and she’s serving well. It’s going to be another tough match, but I’m ready for that and I’m ready for a big fight.”