Aryna Sabalenka won a hotly anticipated fourth-round match between Top 10 players on Rod Laver Arena on Monday, defeating Belinda Bencic 7-5, 6-2 to reach her first Australian Open quarterfinal.
No.5 seed Sabalenka was into the Round of 16 in Melbourne for the third straight season, and she went one better for the first time after ousting No.12 seed Bencic in 87 minutes, coming back from a break down in the first set.
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"Super happy with the win and the level today on court," Sabalenka told the press afterward. "She's unbelievable player. I didn't start well in the beginning, but was able to come back in the match. Super happy with the mindset on court."
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One streak ends, another continues: Both players came into the showdown on seven-match winning streaks, which both included WTA titles in the same city, one week apart.
Sabalenka was 7-0 on the season (14-0 in sets) and took the title at the Adelaide International 1 two weeks ago. Bencic won the Adelaide International 2 title last week to kick off her run.
It was Sabalenka who kept her flawless season going, improving to 2-1 against Bencic in their first meeting since 2019.
"I want to believe that the way I'm working right now, the way I'm on the court right now, this is the new beginning, and this is the next step," Sabalenka said. "I really want to believe that it's going to really help me."
😯 @SabalenkaA has well and truly found her range.— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 23, 2023
The No. 5 seed leads Bencic 7-5 4-1. @wwos • @espn • @Eurosport • @wowowtennis • #AusOpen • #AO2023 pic.twitter.com/wPvZnldtf2
Match moments: Big groundstrokes set the tone in the first set. A superb forehand down the line set up Bencic’s early break for a 2-1 lead, and she eventually went ahead 4-2. Sabalenka got the break back for 4-4 with a powerful crosscourt backhand.
Sabalenka maintained the momentum as the opener progressed, holding serve at love for the first time to reach 6-5. A forehand return winner in the next game gave Sabalenka double set point, and Bencic double-faulted to cede the one-set lead to the No.5 seed.
Sabalenka took command with her power game for good with a break for 3-1 in the second set, and she eased to victory from there. Sabalenka finished the match with 32 winners, well outpacing Bencic's 14 and lined up her next match against Donna Vekic.
Vekic ends Fruhvirtova's run
Former Top 20 player Vekic of Croatia moved into the second Grand Slam quarterfinal of her career with a 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 triumph over Czech teen Linda Fruhvirtova after 2 hours and 7 minutes of play.
"I knew I had to, one, bring my best level, and two, try to stay with her even if things didn't go my way at some point, which they didn't," Vekic said in her post-match press conference. "I knew I just had to fight until the end and believe that I can win."
Relief 💜@DonnaVekic bounces back in the third to complete the comeback over Fruhvirtova, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3!#AusOpen pic.twitter.com/59HZ4XhUgs— wta (@WTA) January 23, 2023
At 17 years and 273 days old, Fruhvirtova was attempting to become the youngest Australian Open quarterfinalist in 25 years, since eventual champions Martina Hingis (17 years, 124 days old) and Venus Williams (17 years, 229 days old) both made the elite eight in 1998.
But it was Vekic who reeled off the last three games of the match to advance to a major quarterfinal for the first time since the 2019 US Open. Vekic is on her own seven-match winning streak, with three victories at United Cup before the Australian Open.
Highlights: Vekic def. Fruhvirtova
At the tail end of a back-and-forth third set, Vekic slammed a backhand winner down the line to set up break point at 4-3, and Fruhvirtova double-faulted to cede her service. Vekic then found some well-timed and powerful deliveries to successfully serve out the match.
Vekic holds a commanding 5-1 lead in her head-to-head against Sabalenka. Vekic has notched three-set wins in their past two encounters, at the 2021 Olympics and last year in San Diego.
"All of our matches have been really tough, so I'm sure next one will be, as well," Vekic said, looking ahead to Sabalenka. "I'm just going to take it one match at a time, just really focus on that match. First, not think that it's quarterfinals, because it's a big match for us both."