In a matchup between Grand Slam champions, No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka fended off Sloane Stephens 7-6(5), 6-4 on Sunday to advance to her first French Open quarterfinal.
"It's a good match to play on the clay court," Sabalenka said after her win. "It's a good preparation. If you can get through this match, you can get through whatever happens to you, you know. Like, it was a really tough, tough match.
"A lot of balls coming back. It wasn't easy to finish the point. So I always had to find this perfect shot to finish it, and that was tricky."
More from Roland Garros
- Day 9 preview: Swiatek, Gauff take center stage
- Pavlyuchenkova, Muchova to square off in quarterfinals
- Why Schmiedlova's career milestone holds an extra special feeling
- 'McSteamy, where you at?' Best quotes from Week 1
The reigning Australian Open champion Sabalenka improved to 11-0 at Grand Slam tournaments this year. She is still in contention to overtake Iga Swiatek as the top-ranked player for the first time following this tournament.
Next up: Sabalenka will now face Elina Svitolina for a place in the semifinals. In her first Grand Slam appearance since giving birth to daughter Skaï, the former World No.3 Svitolina booked a quarterfinal spot by defeating No.9 Daria Kasatkina for the first Top 10 win of her comeback.
Sabalenka and Svitolina have split their two previous meetings. Sabalenka won in three sets on the hard courts of Wuhan in 2018, but Svitolina won their only prior clay-court match, in the 2020 Strasbourg semifinals.
"[Svitolina is] playing really great tennis here in Paris, moving well," Sabalenka said. "Another player [that's] gonna run a lot and put a lot of balls back, and I just have to be patient and wait for that perfect shot to finish the point."
Another close one: Sabalenka had a 3-0 head-to-head lead over Stephens coming into the match, but all three of those previous meetings had gone three sets. The pair of major champions put on another closely contested showdown in their first clay-court encounter.
Sabalenka built a commanding 5-0 lead to start the match and she held three set points in that game, but Stephens pushed the first set into a tiebreak.
First #RolandGarros quarterfinal ✅— wta (@WTA) June 4, 2023
No.2 seed @SabalenkaA moves past Stephens in straight sets for the first time while all 3 of their previous matches have gone the distance. pic.twitter.com/57NnxjwFfr
Little separated the duo in the breaker, but Stephens netted a backhand miscue at 5-5 to give Sabalenka a fourth set point. Sabalenka drew a long service return on that opportunity to take the opener after 62 minutes.
Stephens also staged a comeback in the second set, charging from 4-2 down to 4-4. However, Sabalenka earned a critical break for 5-4 after Stephens led 40-0, clinching that game with a forehand winner.
Sabalenka served out the match at love to collect her tour-leading 33rd match-win of the year. Sabalenka won 77 percent of her first-service points to edge Stephens and improve to 4-0 over the American.
"It was a really tough battle, and that [Stephens] came back from 0-5, and it says a lot that she's a great fighter and that she's not going to give me that win easily," Sabalenka said.