TIANJIN, China - No.4 seed Aryna Sabalenka was in irresistible form at the Tianjin Open, bulldozing her way into the quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-3 rout of Magda Linette in one hour and 13 minutes.
The emphatic victory keeps the Belarusian's hopes alive for a debut at this year's BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global: she has to lift the trophy this week to retain that mathematical possibility, while also needing Karolina Pliskova to fall before the semifinals here and for Kiki Bertens to lose before the quarterfinals in Linz.
Not that the youngster is thinking about that, though. "I was thinking I need to win this tournament - but at the moment I don't care about Singapore," she said. "I'm saying to myself, it doesn't matter - you're 20 years old, you will have a lot of chances to go there. At the moment I'm focused on each match."
Sabalenka was certainly focused from the outset on this match. Striking the ball with the ferocity that fans have become accustomed to during her spectacular second half of the season, the 20-year-old's raw pace was too much for Linette to keep up with in many rallies. Sabalenka would storm through the first five games for the loss of just three points before any trace of a let-up.
A service hold for the sixth game enabled the Pole to get a toehold in the match, and from that point on it would be a somewhat closer contest. Dinking a backhand pass off a Sabalenka smash, Linette would even force the New Haven and Wuhan champion to save a break point before closing out the first set - but Sabalenka rose to the occasion, again forcing her opponent into error with sheer power to finish it off.
Nonetheless, the World No.84 had been buoyed by that passage of play, and began to have more of a say in the match over the course of the second set, with her forehand in particular starting to click. But Sabalenka has proven to be an increasingly clutch player on big points of late, and didn't let Linette's improvement affect her scoreboard dominance: of the six deuce games in the second set, last year's runner-up would capture four.
Hammer blows off the backhand wing enabled Sabalenka to break in the opening game on her fourth opportunity, and another backhand down the line fended off a break point in the very next game before she captured the Linette serve again, this time to love, to leap out to a double break lead for 3-0.
Tha Nanchang semifinalist found an excellent off forehand winner to reduce that deficit to one break, and in her two subsequent service games came up with more brave forehands and clutch serves to keep it that way, saving a brace of break points in each.
But Linette would be unable to take advantage of stretching Sabalenka to deuce on her own serve in the eighth game - and once the Lugano and Eastbourne finalist survived that test she struck again, setting up her first match point on the Linette serve with an exquisite forehand angle and sealing the match on her second as the Pole sent a backhand into the net.
"In the second set I started to be nervous, I don't know why," admitted Sabalenka afterwards. "Probably because I lost my serve, and I had something to think about. I was playing too much aggressive - so I just tried to play a little bit deeper and not too aggressive."
A quarterfinal tilt against either Timea Bacsinszky or qualifier Misaki Doi awaits Sabalenka - and if she wins that, a blockbuster semifinal against No.1 seed Karolina Pliskova could lie ahead.