No.3 seed Aryna Sabalenka reached the third round of Roland Garros for the second straight season with a 7-5, 6-3 win Wednesday evening against countrywoman Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
Service breaks came fast and furious in the all-Belarusian battle on Court Suzanne Lenglen, but it was fourth-ranked Sabalenka who came out on top in an hour and a half, improving to 2-0 against Sasnovich.
"I'm really proud of myself that I was fighting no matter what, kind of trying to find my rhythm," Sabalenka told the press after her victory. "I'm really happy with this win. It was a tough battle."
Sabalenka, who has the second-most tour-level wins this season with 27 (behind Ashleigh Barty’s 28), is still seeking her first trip to the second week of Roland Garros. She is now one step closer following her victory over her compatriot, who has previously cracked the Top 30 but is currently ranked World No.103.
The duo combined for 14 breaks of serve in the tilt, but Sabalenka's power plays won the day overall, with 27 winners, compared to Sasnovich's 15, sweeping the third seed into the third round.
The first six games of the match all went against serve as the receivers attacked at will. In fact, Sasnovich had a 40-0 lead at 3-2 before Sabalenka picked off five points in a row to extend the streak of breaks. Sabalenka finally broke the spell in the next game, holding for 4-3.
After an incredibly powerful forehand winner on game point, Sabalenka took a crucial 6-5 lead. Sabalenka used her forehand wing again to grasp one more break when she needed it most, firing a huge forehand service return crosscourt to take a hard-fought one-set lead.
Both players' returns continued to dominate in the second set, where seven of the first eight games went against serve. Once again, the power game of Sabalenka came out the victor in the latter stage of the set, as strong serves at 5-3 were at last too much for Sasnovich to contend with, and the No.3 seed garnered the win.
"I would say I definitely feel better this year, kind of believe that I can do well here on the clay court," Sabalenka said. "I feel better and really happy to be here, to compete here."
In the round of 32, Sabalenka will now face another powerful hitter, and a person she has recently faced and beaten -- No.31 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia.
Pavlyuchenkova defeated Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia, 6-2, 6-3, to clinch her spot in the third round. The Russian took an hour and a half to oust the Aussie, breaking serve five times and slamming 20 winners in the encounter.
Pavlyuchenkova, who has reached the quarterfinals at all four Grand Slam events in her career, had an excellent performance on the clay courts of Madrid earlier this season, making it to the semifinals. But her conqueror there was none other than eventual Madrid champion Sabalenka.
"Pavlyuchenkova is a tough opponent," Sabalenka said. "She's aggressive. She's playing really well right now, moving well and hitting quite strong balls. So I'm really looking forward for this match, for this battle. I will do everything I can to do well there."
Wednesday was a busy day for Belarus, as Victoria Azarenka also picked up a win earlier in the day. No.15 seed Azarenka booked a spot in the third round of Roland Garros for the first time since 2015 with a tough 7-5, 6-4 win over rapidly rising teenager Clara Tauson.
Former World No.1 Azarenka, whose best Roland Garros performance is a trip to the 2013 semifinals, needed an hour and 48 minutes to quash the challenge from Tauson in an intriguing generational battle.
Azarenka, 31, is one of nine players over 30 years old to reach the second round, while Tauson is one of five teenagers in the field to make it that far. The 18-year-old Dane, who is at a career-high ranking of World No.90, reached the top junior ranking in the world just two years ago.
But experience won out in the first meeting between the pair, with Azarenka notching two close sets after converting five of her 13 break points. Tauson had one more winner than Azarenka in the affair, but also five more unforced errors than the Belarusian.
Azarenka came into Paris having played just a single match on clay this season, but has now earned two wins this week, adding to her first-round victory over former Roland Garros champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
A tightly contested opening set came to a critical juncture at 5-5, where Tauson saved a break point with an exceptional backhand winner down the line, and eventually was a point away from a service hold. But rally groundstrokes by Azarenka gave her a second opportunity to break, which she won with an error-forcing forehand.
Multiple down-the-line winners helped Azarenka steer her way to a hold in the following game, as she collected the one-set lead after nearly an hour of play.
Breaks were exchanged twice in the second set before Azarenka again claimed another crucial service break in the penultimate game. Serving for the match at 5-4, Azarenka saw her first match point erased by a brilliant Tauson backhand down the line. Nevertheless, the two-time Australian Open champion converted her second match point after a netted forehand by the teen.
In the third round, Azarenka will face No.23 seed Madison Keys, who also dismissed an 18-year-old in her opening match. Keys defeated Leylah Fernandez of Canada, 6-1, 7-5, to move into a clash against Azarenka in Paris.
"[Azarenka is] obviously playing some really impressive tennis the past 18 months," Keys told the press after her win. "I know it's going to be a really difficult match, super high intensity. I'm going to go practice very hard tomorrow to be ready for that."
Keys, a Roland Garros semifinalist in 2018 and a quarterfinalist in 2019, had lost her last three matches against teenaged opponents, but this time around, the American emerged victorious after an hour and 33 minutes of play against Fernandez.
Former Top 10 player Keys had 31 winners to Fernandez's six, and was able to survive 25 unforced errors in the close second set. Fernandez, who won the Roland Garros junior singles title just two years ago, was unable to match her third-round showing from her main-draw debut last season.
After a breezy opener, Keys was tested in the second set. With Keys serving for the match at 5-4, Fernandez forced errors from the American to clinch a routine service break and level the set at 5-5.
However, Keys broke back in the next game with a forehand winner square on the baseline to earn a second chance to serve for the victory. At 6-5, Fernandez saved two match points, pushing Keys to deuce, but the American regrouped and won the last two points with fierce forehands to return to the third round in Paris.
Keys said that she wrapped up that second set by "making some first serves and just really staying in it, and resetting after having those set points and not being able to convert them. Just really quickly resetting, not dwelling on it and moving forward.
"[Fernandez] is such a great fighter. I kind of expected it. But I was really happy to be able to close out that set the way that I did."