World No.1 Aryna Sabalenka overcame a spirited challenge from unseeded Italian Jasmine Paolini in the third round of the China Open to set a quarterfinal match against Elena Rybakina.
Paolini entered Thursday's tilt with a 2-1 head-to-head edge over Sabalenka, including a three-set win against her last year in Indian Wells. And after Sabalenka served her way to a one-set lead -- she struck 13 aces in the first set and saved both break points she faced -- she denied Paolini in the Italian's two opportunities to extend the match to a third set.
"She's' a great player. She's moving well, putting so many balls back, so she makes you work for it," Sabalenka said after a 6-4, 7-6(4) win. "In the tiebreak, I was just telling myself, 'Stay aggressive, come in, just play your game and you'll get this tiebreak.'"
The World No.36 came from 6-4, 3-1 down to serve for the second set twice at 5-4 and 6-5, but never reached set point. Sabalenka won five of the first six points of the ensuing tiebreak to wrap up the win in 1 hour and 37 minutes.
"Until 6-4, 3-1 in the second set, I was serving amazing, but then something happened," Sabalenka said. "I didn't adjust and I started missing my serves, gave her a chance to come back in the match.
"I'm happy I was able to win that second set and finish the match. I think she played really great tennis, and in those key moments, I showed my best tennis. That's most important, and I'm happy with that."
Sabalenka finished with 41 winners, including 16 aces, and 22 unforced errors, while Paolini hit 18 winners to just seven errors.
Blockbuster matchup set！— China Open (@ChinaOpen) October 5, 2023
Sabalenka 🆚 Rybakina
Tomorrow night on Diamond Court.💎 pic.twitter.com/24bSUmRE9z
Sabalenka has won four of five meetings against Rybakina, but they've split two matches this year with trophies at stake. After Sabalenka won a high-quality three-set Australian Open final for her first major title, Rybakina won their final in Indian Wells in two tight sets.
"It's always great battles against Elena. I think I just have to focus on myself, play aggressive and just play my game," Sabalenka said. "I know that I'll have some chances to win this match. In the last match I lost, I got nervous a little bit and I rushed a little bit more. The key against Elena is just to stay calm, stay aggressive, and not over-rush things."