No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka continues to collect comeback wins at the Australian Open. The Belarusian battled past No.31 seed Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 to win her third straight match from a set down this week.
Sabalenka needed 1 hour and 49 minutes to quash the challenge from Tokyo Olympic silver medalist Vondrousova and advance into the Round of 16 for the second straight season.
"Of course I'm proud of myself that I was able, after the first set, to come back," Sabalenka said. "It was really tough. I was really tight in the first set. Conditions were really tough today. I'm really happy that I pushed myself so hard and I came back."
Fast facts: World No.2 Sabalenka was 0-2 on the season coming into the year's first major, and this week she lost the first set to both Storm Sanders in the first round and Wang Xinyu in the second round before clinching each of those victories.
Vondrousova proved to be another test for the second seed, which made sense given the Czech's history against top players. The 22-year-old Vondrousova had won three of her four previous matches against players ranked in the Top 2, including a victory over Naomi Osaka en route to her silver medal last year.
Once again, though, Sabalenka proved to be sturdy down the stretch, elevating her game to close out another three-setter and reach the fourth round at a third straight major. Sabalenka is seeking her third straight Grand Slam semifinal showing after final-four results at last year's Wimbledon and US Open.
Tale of the match: The former World No.14 Vondrousova earned the crucial first-set break at 3-3, firing a winning forehand pass on break point. The left-hander, whose best Grand Slam result is a runner-up showing to Ashleigh Barty at 2019 Roland Garros, held on from there to notch the first set.
But Sabalenka regrouped in the second set, slamming a backhand crosscourt winner to break Vondrousova for an early 2-0 lead. That proved to be the only break of the set, and Sabalenka slammed back-to-back unreturnable serves in the final two points to tie the affair.
Sabalenka again picked up a swift break in the decider to lead 2-1, and the 23-year-old was unchallenged from there, motoring through the rest of the set to repeat her comeback heroics from the first two rounds.
Next up: A match between two powerful hitters will take place Monday in the Round of 16, with Sabalenka facing Kaia Kanepi of Estonia. Kanepi won their only previous meeting last year at the Gippsland Trophy, which took place at Melbourne Park, site of the Australian Open.
Six-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist Kanepi staged her own comeback win Saturday, ousting Australian wildcard Maddison Inglis 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 to reach the Australian Open fourth round for the first time.
Read more: Other results from Saturday
"[Kanepi is] a great player," Sabalenka said. "It was a tough match [last year]. She's serving well, hits pretty hard. It's really interesting to play against her. I'm really looking forward to this match.
"I remember it was a lot of winners and a lot of unforced errors [in last year's match]. I think I need to try to start from the beginning and don't give her so much opportunities, so I just have to be focused from the beginning."
Collins, Cornet execute their own comeback victories
Earlier, Danielle Collins of the United States and Alizé Cornet, who turned 32 on Saturday, kicked off the day by winning simultaneous three-set thrillers on the stadium courts to reach the Round of 16.
The 2019 Australian Open semifinalist Collins, the No.27 seed, outlasted the last remaining teenager in the draw, 19-year-old Clara Tauson of Denmark, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 in a 2-hour and 35-minute battle on Rod Laver Arena.
Collins came back from a set and 4-2 down to claim a spot in the fourth round of a Grand Slam event for the third time in her career. Along with her trip to the final four in Melbourne three years ago, she also reached the quarterfinals at 2020 Roland Garros.
"I certainly gave myself a run for my money today, and especially with how Clara was playing," Collins said. "It's never ideal to be down a set and 4-2, but it was kind of like I either needed to make the adjustments or I was going to lose the match. So I had to make that adjustment pretty quickly and really commit to it."
One of a tournament-leading four Americans to reach the third round this week, World No.30 Collins needed to fight past the rising Dane Tauson, ranked at a career-high World No.39. Tauson upset No.6 seed Anett Kontaveit in the previous round.
Both players won their first two WTA singles titles last year, and their improved form was evident as they went down to the wire with powerful ball-striking. Ultimately, Collins had 33 winners and the same number of unforced errors; Tauson also had 33 unforced errors but only 25 winners.
Collins improved to 2-0 against Tauson. Her prior win against the Danish player also came at a Grand Slam event, with a second-round victory at 2020 Roland Garros en route to her elite eight showing.
Collins actually led 4-1 in the opening set before Tauson knocked off five games in a row to swipe the one-set lead. A sterling passing winner then gave the teenager a break and a 2-1 lead in the second set.
However, a bevy of forehand winners helped Collins level the second set at 4-4. Collins converted her third set point two games later with another forehand winner, completing her own comeback and tying the match at one set apiece.
The pair excelled in the third set, with the power games by both refusing to budge, including when Tauson fended off three match points before holding for 5-5. At last, though, a superb backhand down the line gave Collins three more match points at 6-5, and the American converted the first of that trio with a scintillating backhand return winner.
Collins will now face another former Australian Open semifinalist, No.19 seed Elise Mertens, in the fourth round.
"[Mertens has] had some really great results in Australia," Collins said. "[She] has always been a really solid player, a high-ranked player on tour. She's very consistent across the board and is always fighting until the end. I'm sure we're going to really battle out there and hopefully have fun at the same time."
At the same time as Collins's comeback victory, Cornet was also in the process of a turnaround. The Frenchwoman fought back from a set and a double-break down to overcome No.29 seed Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 in 2 hours and 43 minutes.
Cornet's 32nd birthday present to herself was her second trip into the Australian Open fourth round. The only other time Cornet made it this deep in Melbourne was in 2009, 13 years ago.
"I just kept fighting, kept trying my best, and the match turned around," Cornet said afterward. "In the third set, it was very hard physically for both of us. It was burning hot outside. I'm really glad that I came out with the win the day of my birthday. It means a lot."
Playing in her 60th consecutive Grand Slam event, the French veteran, currently ranked World No.61, ousted last year's Roland Garros semifinalist Zidansek in their first career meeting.
After the first five games of the match went against serve, Zidansek used her heavy groundstrokes and a sprinkle of well-timed volleys to clinch the opening set. The Slovene lengthened her lead, breaking Cornet twice to attain a 4-1 advantage in the second set.
But former World No.11 Cornet, who eliminated No.3 seed Garbiñe Muguruza in the previous round, fired herself up, and she suddenly reeled off seven games in a row to kick off her comeback. An eight-deuce service break for 4-4 in that set epitomized Cornet's grit.
The final set began with a stirring winner around the post by Cornet, and the Frenchwoman spurred herself on from there, breaking Zidansek three times in the decider to wrap up her return from the brink of defeat.
Cornet is now one win away from reaching a long-awaited maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal. To get there, she will have to overcome 2018 Australian Open finalist Simona Halep of Romania in the fourth round. Cornet has won three of their four meetings, although they have not met since 2015.
"I had a really great time on the court again with the crowd supporting me," Cornet said. "I want to fill my heart with all this energy without thinking I might get finally my quarterfinal that I'm looking for for the past 15 years. We'll see how it goes. I will keep doing my best on the court. If it happens, great. If not, it's still amazing what I'm living every day here."