No.5 seed Aryna Sabalenka and No.12 Belinda Bencic are both currently on winning streaks, but one of those will come to an end Monday when they face each other in a Round of 16 match at the 2023 Australian Open.
Bencic defeated Italy's Camila Giorgi 6-2, 7-5 to reach the fourth and was followed into the second week by Sabalenka, who maintained her undefeated start to the season by easing past former doubles partner Elise Mertens 6-2, 6-3.
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Bencic fends off Giorgi: Olympic gold medalist Bencic needed 1 hour and 40 minutes to hold off hard-hitting World No.70 Giorgi and make her second trip into the Round of 16 in Melbourne. Her previous appearance in the Australian Open second week came in 2016.
Bencic extended her current winning streak to seven straight victories. Last week, she won the Adelaide International 2 title, a title that pushed her back into the Top 10 for the first time since October of 2021.
Bencic breezed through Saturday's first set on Rod Laver Arena, but Giorgi put up a sturdier test in the second set. Bencic fended off two break points in a difficult hold for 5-3, but Giorgi powered her way to a break when Bencic served for the match at 5-4.
January 20, 2023
Bencic forced Giorgi into errors in the following game, moving ahead by a break once more. Bencic's second chance at serving out the match went perfectly, as she completed a love hold at 6-5 with a winning forehand.
"I'm happy with the win," Bencic told the press. "Of course [Giorgi is] a very explosive player. She has a lot of power when she hits the ball. It's not easy, of course, to play against her, but I think I was mentally ready for that.
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"Even though she broke me back after [leading 5-4], I just tried to keep doing the same thing, and I'm happy I served it out in the second chance."
Bencic won 50 percent of points returning both the Giorgi first serve and second serve in the match. The Swiss improved to 4-2 against Giorgi, and she has also won her past 10 singles matches overall against Italian opponents.
Good friends and former #AusOpen doubles champions face off 🎾— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 21, 2023
No. 5 seed @SabalenkaA meets No. 26 seed @elise_mertens. #AO2023 pic.twitter.com/6VCYHf3Rnk
Sabalenka sweeps through reunion: Margaret Court Arena hosted the encounter between Sabalenka and No.26 seed Mertens, who were one of the top doubles teams of the past decade. The duo combined to win five WTA doubles titles, including two Grand Slams at the 2019 US Open and the 2021 Australian Open.
But Sabalenka has firmly held the upper hand in their singles rivalry, and that continued Saturday with a 1-hour and 14-minute win. Sabalenka now leads Mertens 7-2 in their head-to-head, including victories in their past six meetings.
Highlights: Sabalenka def. Mertens
Sabalenka added another match-win to her spotless season. The World No.5 is 7-0 in 2023 (14-0 in sets). She won the Adelaide International 1 title the week before Bencic took the next title in the same city.
Straight-sets Sabs ✌️@SabalenkaA is yet to drop a set in singles in 2023!#AusOpen pic.twitter.com/6sjsUY5n1N— wta (@WTA) January 21, 2023
In press, Sabalenka said the key was "my calmness on the court. That's pretty much it, I think. I was just ready for everything. Whatever's going to happen on court, I'm ready for that.
"It's still about a lot of positive emotions for me, but I'm trying to stay away from negative and just fight for every point."
Mertens did well to survive a 12-minute, seven-deuce game in the second set to stay close to her former doubles partner. In the end, Sabalenka was too overwhelming, tallying 32 winners to Mertens' 12.
Sabalenka is now into the Round of 16 in Melbourne for the third straight year, although she has never been able to progress beyond this stage at this major.
Fourth-round showdown: Sabalenka and Bencic have split their two previous meetings, but they have not played each other in nearly four years. Sabalenka won in straight sets in the 2018 New Haven quarterfinals, while Bencic prevailed in a third-set tiebreak in Dubai in 2019.
"[Bencic is] a great fighter, a great player, moving well, hitting the ball quite clean," Sabalenka said. "She's in good shape as well. So, yeah, I'm really looking forward for this battle."