No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka posted a new career-best result at the French Open on Friday, defeating Kamilla Rakhimova 6-2, 6-2 to move into the Round of 16 in Paris for the first time in her career.
Sabalenka, who won her first major title at this year’s Australian Open, needed just 67 minutes to dispatch 82nd-ranked Rakhimova in their first meeting. With the win, Sabalenka improved to 10-0 at this year’s Grand Slam events.
Sabalenka will meet fellow Grand Slam champion Sloane Stephens in the fourth round. Stephens, the 2017 US Open titlist and 2018 Roland Garros finalist, ousted two-time French Open quarterfinalist Yulia Putintseva 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.
Sabalenka leads the head-to-head with Stephens 3-0, but all three of those matches have gone three sets. This will also be their first meeting on clay.
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Parisian breakthrough: Sabalenka has reached the semifinals or better at each of the other three Grand Slam tournaments, but she had never before made the second week at Roland Garros, falling in the third round in each of the last three years.
That all changed on Court Philippe Chatrier as the World No.2 finally booked a Round of 16 spot at the clay-court major. Sabalenka was never broken on Friday, winning 81 percent of her first-service points and firing six aces.
Rakhimova nearly grabbed an early break point at 2-2 in the first set, but her passing winner was negated after she touched the net at the end of the point. Sabalenka regrouped in that game to hold with a backhand winner, and that kicked off a seven-game winning streak to lead 6-2, 3-0.
Sabalenka misfired on a volley to give Rakhimova her only break point of the day at 4-2 in the second set, but the No.2 seed erased that chance with a second-serve ace. Sabalenka had no trouble powering to victory from there, wrapping up the clash with her fourth service break.
Eying the summit: Depending on results throughout the tournament, Sabalenka could still take the World No.1 ranking from Iga Swiatek during this fortnight, which would mark her first appearance at the top of the Hologic WTA Tour singles rankings.
Sabalenka’s victory over Rakhimova was her 32nd match-win of the year, which leads all players on tour. Sabalenka is currently two wins ahead of second-place Swiatek and Elena Rybakina, who have each won 30 matches this season.
Second week Stephens: Later on Friday, former World No.3 Stephens reached the Round of 16 at Roland Garros for the ninth time in her career with a 2-hour and 23-minute victory over Putintseva, leveling their head-to-head at three wins apiece.
American Stephens has now won 35 matches over her career at the French Open, her most match-wins at any of the four Slams. Along with her 2018 runner-up finish, she also reached the quarterfinals in 2019 and last year.
Stephens converted seven of her 10 break points to beat Putintseva and go 12-2 in her last 14 matches on clay. Coming into the French Open, Stephens won the WTA 125 title in Saint Malo and reached the semifinals of WTA 250 Rabat.