ABU DHABI, U.A.E. -- No.4 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus kept her winning streak going on Friday, easing past Australia's Ajla Tomljanovic, 7-5, 6-4, to advance to the third round of the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open.
"I was just trying to stay calm, trying to stay in every point, and make sure I’m fighting for every point," Sabalenka told the media during her post-match press conference.
World No.10 Sabalenka has moved to 11 straight wins on the WTA, with her two victories in Abu Dhabi following up her superb form at the end of last season, where she won back-to-back titles in Ostrava and Linz.
"I’m staying in the moment," said Sabalenka. "What happened in the past happened in the past, and I’m just focusing on every match. I’m just trying to focus on my game, work through everything, to try to do my best against every opponent, that’s it. This kind of mentality helped me to build this confidence."
Sabalenka brought a 2-1 head-to-head lead into her match with Tomljanovic, although the World No.68 from Australia had in fact won their most recent match in straight sets, on the hardcourts of the 2019 Miami Open. Nevertheless, Sabalenka was able to grasp another win over her rival this time around, triumphing after an hour and 40 minutes of play.
A clash between seeded players is set up for the round of 16, as Sabalenka will now face No.15 seed Ons Jabeur, after the Tunisian had a three-set win over qualifier Kateryna Bondarenko earlier on Friday. Jabeur won their only previous clash, a three-setter at Roland Garros last season.
"In Roland Garros, it was a really tricky match," Sabalenka recalled. "I’m just going to respect her game, stay calm, and just work for every point. She’s a tricky player, it’s going to be hard. I’m ready for the long rallies and I’m ready for the hard work to get this win."
Sabalenka was the superior player in the opening stages of the match, barrelling ahead to a 4-0 lead after Tomljanovic double faulted to cede a second break to the Belarusian. Sabalenka succumbed to three double faults from her racquet in the next game, ending her winning streak, but she still held a 4-1 lead.
However, by this point, Tomljanovic was starting to find the range on her own powerful groundstrokes, hitting winners from both sides to stay just one break behind at 5-3. The Australian’s persistence paid off in the next game, when she drew errors from Sabalenka and pulled back on serve at 5-4.
Having been pulled all the way back to level footing at 5-5, Sabalenka surged, powering through a love service game to reach 6-5. Tomljanovic had two chances to close out the following game, but, suddenly, the Sabalenka groundstrokes were forcing errors left and right, and the Belarusian reeled off four points in a row, including a passing winner on set point, to break for a one-set lead.
Tomljanovic struck back right away in the second set, claiming a break of service in the very first game. Sabalenka, though, notched another break of her own to get back level at 2-2, clinching that game with a backhand crosscourt passing winner.
Four more breaks of serve followed directly thereafter, as the two strong hitters continued to attack the serves of their opponent. At last, Sabalenka quashed the run of breaks, finding powerful deliveries to steer her through another closely contested game and hold for a 5-4 lead.
Sabalenka zipped to a 0-30 lead in the next game before Tomljanovic fired two fearsome forehands to pull back to 30-30. The Belarusian, though, was not to be denied, cracking a sturdy return to force an error from the Australian and bring up match point. The World No.10 converted her chance with aplomb, sealing her spot in the sweet sixteen with a forehand winner down the line.