WUHAN, China -- World No.20 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus continued her excellent hardcourt form in the first round of the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open on Monday, overcoming a stern test from Spain's Carla Suárez Navarro, 7-6(2), 2-6, 6-2.
In the first meeting between the two players, the Belarusian defeated Suárez Navarro in straight sets in the final of the Connecticut Open to win her first WTA singles title. But the Spaniard put up much sterner resistance in this second encounter, and Sabalenka had to withstand three set points in the first set and a sturdy second set by her opponent before emerging victorious in just under two hours.
In the closely-contested affair, Sabalenka was 10 percent more effective on winning points on her second serve than World No.22 Suárez Navarro was. The Belarusian often dragged her way out of trouble, saving seven of the 10 break points she faced.
20-year-old Sabalenka moves into the second round in Wuhan, where she will face No.6 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine in their first professional meeting. Svitolina has claimed three titles this season.
The match kicked off with both players being extremely dominant on their deliveries; through the first ten games, Suárez Navarro had dropped only three points on serve, while Sabalenka had been even more stingy with only two points ceded.
Suddenly, though, Sabalenka found herself in a dire predicament at 5-5, falling behind triple break point after holding at love in her last four service games. The Belarusian saved one with a searing overhead, but a backhand unforced error handed Suárez Navarro a 6-5 lead and a chance to use her heretofore pristine serve to close out the set.
But after missed returns by Sabalenka gave Suárez Navarro double set point, the Belarusian started firing winners from all sections, and claimed a break point. The Spaniard erased Sabalenka’s chance and reached a third set point, but did not convert that one either. A strong return gave Sabalenka a second break point, which she took after a Suárez Navarro backhand miscue, sending the set into a tiebreak.
Sabalenka held onto the momentum in the breaker, once again using her powerful serve to take a 4-1 lead as the Spaniard missed service returns long. A stunning backhand return winner by the Belarusian put her up 5-2 with possession of serve, and Sabalenka ran with it, firing a forehand winner two points later to complete the first-set comeback.
Despite multiple visits from the trainer to work on her knee in the second set, Suárez Navarro did not succumb after the loss of the opening frame, and indeed began to play her best. Sabalenka saved four break points to hold for 2-2, but was unable to repeat the feat in her next service game, as the Spaniard broke for 4-2 on her third break point of that game.
Suárez Navarro used her backhand down the line to claim key points throughout the set, and dominated Sabalenka in the Belarusian’s next service game, at 5-2, as well. Suárez Navarro reached triple set point with minimal fuss, and converted her first chance to quickly tie the match at one set apiece.
But it was Sabalenka who came out swinging in the deciding set, breaking Suárez Navarro in the opening game and easily consolidating for a 2-0 lead. The Spaniard then handed another break point to Sabalenka when she double faulted at deuce at 3-1; there, a netted forehand error gave Sabalenka the double-break advantage at 4-1.
Suárez Navarro did well to save a match point with a strong serve at 5-1, eventually holding serve and avoiding being broken a third time in the set to end the tilt. But Sabalenka had no problems serving out the clash, quickly moving to triple match point, and ending the encounter on her first opportunity with a backhand winner down the line.
More to follow...