ABU DHABI, U.A.E. -- World No.10 Aryna Sabalenka extended her winning streak to 10 consecutive matches with a 7-6(5), 6-2 win over Polona Hercog in the first round of the Abu Dhabi WTA Women's Tennis Open. The Belarusian will face Australia's Ajla Tomljanovic in the second round.
Sabalenka overcame a slow start just in time to manufacture a roaring comeback from 2-5 down and wrest control of the opening set. In her pre-tournament press conference, Sabalenka noted adjusting to the quick outdoor conditions in Abu Dhabi would be a challenge after doing her pre-season indoors. While Hercog looked comfortable with her timing, Sabalenka found herself often late to the ball, eliciting errors. The No.4 seed was broken in her opening service game with a double-fault and struggled to find her big-hitting rhythm from the baseline.
Eyeing her third career Top 10 win and first on hardcourt, Hercog looked well on her way to pocketing the first set. She earned a double-break lead at 5-2 and up until she stepped to the line to serve out the set, the Slovenian had faced just one break point on her serve.
But despite earning two set points at 5-2, 40-15, Hercog failed to close out the game. Sabalenka suddenly found her range and a steady barrage of deep and heavy forehands began to rock Hercog off the baseline. On her fifth break point of the game, Sabalenka finally broke through to get one break back.
"When the score was 2-5, 15-40, I just said to myself, oh I don't care about this set," Sabalenka told reporters. "I just need to find the rhythm. I was trying to hit the returns to find a smooth motion. Somehow I won that game. I was thinking ok, maybe I have a chance to still win this set. Keep playing, keep moving."
Hercog had chances in the very next game to break for the set, earning three break points. But when Sabalenka needed to land a heavy shot or a big serve, the 22-year-old found it. Sabalenka held off Hercog in a five-deuce game and rode that momentum to a quick break of serve in the next game to level the opening set at 5-5.
Despite the quickly shifting momentum, Hercog still earned a third chance to serve out the set. She broke Sabalenka to 6-5, but Sabalenka remained relentless. She responded by quickly breaking Hercog at love and then raced away with the tiebreak, finally taking it on her third set point, 7-5 after 72 minutes. Sabalenka finished the first set with 16 winners to 25 unforced errors, while Hercog fired 9 winners to 17 unforced errors.
Buoyed by the momentum of her comeback, Sabalenka raced out to a 4-0 lead in the second. By then the Belarusian could do little wrong with her racquet, hitting just 8 unforced errors in the second set, complemented by 10 winners, closing out her first win of the season in 1 hour and 49 minutes.
"She was playing really well in the beginning and I wasn't moving well and I couldn't find my rhythm," Sabalenka said. "But I'm really happy that in these conditions I was able to find a way and I went actually went through it and won this match. I think I was focusing on putting as many balls in as I can and that was it.
"I didn't have my serve and I didn't have my forehand and backhand. but I had my character and I was just trying to use it as much as I can. Keep fighting for every point. I think that's why I won today."