Aryna Sabalenka has extended her winning ways Down Under to eight straight, notching her maiden Australian Open quarterfinal at the expense of Olympic champion Belinda Bencic on Monday.
Despite a slow start, the fifth seed was again a master of composure under pressure as she produced a 7-5 6-2 victory, reports ausopen.com.
It was a position she could not have imagined herself in 12 months ago, after her emotional rollercoaster ride came to a halt against Kaia Kanepi at this stage.
“It takes me a little while to understand that negative emotions are not going to help you on court and you just have to stay strong and believe no matter what and do everything you can to get back on this court, just to win the match,” Sabalenka said.
“(I’m) just super happy with my mindset during the game today.”
Two of the most in-form names heading into the second week, Sabalenka and Bencic earned confidence-boosting victories when they split the two Adelaide WTA 500 events in the lead-up.
Sabalenka has not dropped a set in her opening seven matches of the season and has only grown in confidence with each step closer to a maiden Australian Open quarterfinal.
She channelled that self-declared, new-found composure to see off Elise Mertens – the Belgian with whom she won the Australian Open doubles title in 2021 – in the third round and entered this clash having split two meetings with Bencic.
Like Sabalenka, the Swiss has long been in the fray as a Grand Slam title contender but has all too often fallen short of those expectations.
The Olympic champion climbed into the top 10 for the first time since 2021 following her Adelaide success and said she had to try to “block out the noise” surrounding those title chances this week as she reached the fourth round for the first time in seven years.
Bencic, who now has Sabalenka’s former coach Dimitry Tursunov in her corner, understood this contest was always likely to be played on her opponent’s terms.
Her task from the outset was to neutralise the fifth seed’s explosive blows.
The Swiss’ best hope was to expose Sabalenka’s movement using variety, but she also found success when she took the ball on the rise as she aggressively hugged the baseline to take time away from her heavier-hitting foe.
It was time to fight fire with fire.
Sabalenka’s struggles last year harnessing her wayward serve are well documented, but what was once a liability has become a weapon of greater reliability.
From a 2-4 deficit, the 24-year-old gained a foothold on the match as she lifted her average first and second service speeds up a notch and seized control from the baseline.
She reeled off six of the next seven games and broke for the set when Bencic double-faulted.
The pressure was squarely back on the 12th seed and as she battled to stem the flow she reverted to adding more margin on her serves.
It was not enough to hold her own. Sabalenka clocked a forehand winner into the corner to break for the fourth time at the 89-minute mark to book her spot in the last eight.