ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- No.4 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus won her first match as the newest member of the WTA’s Top 10, dispatching Alison van Uytvanck of Belgium 6-1, 6-4, on Thursday, to advance to the quarterfinals of the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy.
"It was a great match, it was a great start actually," Sabalenka told the press, after the match. "In the second set, I had a little bit of problems with my serve, but I’m happy that I could win this set, because actually I didn’t want to play three sets!"
20-year-old Sabalenka, who started the year by winning her third career singles title in Shenzhen, made her Top 10 debut on Monday following a third-round showing at the Australian Open. The Belarusian looked well at ease with her new status, easing past van Uytvanck in 70 minutes.
"It’s just on the paper that I’m a Top 10 player," Sabalenka stated. "I still need to go on the court, I still need to play my best tennis, put everything on the court, push myself through everything."
World No.52 van Uytvanck had won their lone prior meeting on the grass of Mallorca last year. But it was Sabalenka who cruised through the first set, winning seven of van Uytvanck's nine second-service points there, before eking out the straight-set victory this time around.
Sabalenka got off to a flying start in the opening frame, breaking her Belgian opponent at the first time of asking with a backhand volley on break point to lead 2-0. The No.4 seed followed that game with a love service hold to reach 3-0 and immediately put her stamp on the match.
24-year-old van Uytvanck got on the board in the subsequent game, but that would turn out to be the Belgian’s only game of the set. At 4-1, Sabalenka converted her third break point in the game with a backhand winner, and she coolly closed out the set in the next game. The Belarusian never faced a break point as she claimed her one-set advantage.
Van Uytvanck put up a much sterner test in the second set, as strong returning gave the Belgian her first four break points of the match at 1-0. Sabalenka was able to wriggle out of that game with a tough hold, but van Uytvanck finally broke the Belarusian in the next game, using back-to-back winning lobs to break for a 3-1 lead.
However, the Belgian’s momentum was fleeting, as she swiftly dropped serve once more in the following game to allow Sabalenka back on serve. Van Uytvanck then fired two unforced errors and a double fault to fall behind triple break point at 3-3, and though she saved one break point with an ace, a strong return by Sabalenka gave the Belarusian a second straight break and a 4-3 lead.
Serving for the win at 5-4, Sabalenka fell behind 0-30, but the World No.10 reeled off four straight points, including an ace on match point, to clinch victory and move into the quarterfinals in Russia.
Next up for Sabalenka will be Russian qualifier Ekaterina Alexandrova, who defeated fellow qualifier Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic, 7-5, 6-2, earlier on Thursday. Alexandrova won 84 percent of points on her first serve en route to the 85-minute victory, and her first Premier-level quarterfinal.
"[Alexandrova is] a great player," said Sabalenka, who won their most recent meeting on the way to her Shenzhen title last month. "She’s an aggressive player, she has a good serve and good shots. I’ll just try to be focused each point, stay in the point as long as I can, be focused and be ready for everything."