No.5 seed Aryna Sabalenka's impressive start to the year continued on Thursday with a 6-3, 6-1 win against Shelby Rogers to reach the third round of the 2023 Australian Open.
"It was a great match," Sabalenka said after her in 1-hour and 27-minute win. "Always a tough opponent to play against, and I'm super happy that I was able to finish this game in two sets."
Fast facts: Sabalenka had won her two previous meetings with World No.51 Rogers, both in 2022. Rogers, though, had pushed Sabalenka to 6-4 in the third set on the hard courts of Cincinnati.
Rogers has had three Top 10 wins at Grand Slams, including over then-World No.1 Ashleigh Barty at the 2021 US Open.
Untouchable tennis today from @SabalenkaA 🔥— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 19, 2023
She hit 32 winners on her way to a 6-3 6-1 victory over Rogers@wwos • @espn • @Eurosport • @wowowtennis • #AusOpen • #AO2023 pic.twitter.com/cS56Z8OUNC
Nevertheless, Sabalenka charged back from a break down in the first set on Rod Laver Arena to remain undefeated against Rogers. Sabalenka hit 32 winners, nearly doubling Rogers' 17. Sabalenka is now into the third round in Melbourne for the third straight year.
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Sabalenka is 6-0 this year. She won the Adelaide International 1 title two weeks ago. It is the second time in the past three years Sabalenka has won her first six matches of the season.
Tale of the match: Sabalenka had saved nearly 80 percent of break points she had faced during her hot start to the year, but Rogers was still able to draw first blood, taking a 3-1 lead in an opening set filled with lengthy games.
Sabalenka misfired on some forehands in the early stages, but she tuned up her game as the first set wore on, with particular vigor behind her backhand service returns. All told, the No.5 seed reeled off five games in a row to snatch the one-set lead.
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In the second set, Sabalenka slammed a backhand winner to save a break point and hold for 1-1. She was untroubled from there, cracking a backhand crosscourt winner to seal the match.
Hi @AustralianOpen 😃 Good to be back 🙌 #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/8slD2A6D1o— Elise Mertens (@elise_mertens) January 13, 2023
A reunion of sorts: Sabalenka will face her former regular doubles partner, No.26 seed Elise Mertens, in the third round. At their peak, Sabalenka and Mertens were a formidable duo who won Grand Slam doubles titles at the 2019 US Open and the 2021 Australian Open.
Mertens set up the meeting by defeating American Lauren Davis 6-4, 6-3 in 1 hour and 12 minutes. Mertens ended the eight-match winning streak of Davis, who won the Hobart title as a qualifier last week.
Mertens has thrived at the Australian Open, reaching the 2018 semifinals in her main-draw debut at the event. The Belgian has made the third round or better in all six of her main-draw appearances in Melbourne.
However, Sabalenka holds a 6-2 advantage in their singles rivalry. In their most recent meeting, Sabalenka beat Mertens 6-4, 6-1 in the Round of 16 at the 2021 US Open.
"It's definitely going to be a tough round," Mertens said, looking ahead to her next match during her press conference. "[Sabalenka] just won Adelaide, so she's kind of on fire and has a lot of confidence.
"But, you know, every match has to be played, and I think I can be good, too. I try to do my best, and, of course, she's very powerful, but I try to take every opportunity as I can."