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Aryna Sabalenka snaps Belinda Bencic streak for first Australian Open quarterfinal
Sabalenka extended her own eight-match winning streak and is yet to drop a set in 2023.
Published Jan 23, 2023
WATCH: In a battle between two of the best players this season, Sabalenka emerged victorious in her first win over Bencic since 2019.
Something had to give: Belinda Bencic and Aryna Sabalenka each arrived to the Australian Open with an Adelaide title in hand, but only one could advance into the quarterfinals.
In the end, Sabalenka emerged with her now-eight-match winning streak intact, rallying from an early break down to defeat the No. 12 seed, 7-5, 6-2 and reach the last eight for the first time Down Under in one hour and 27 minutes.
Sabalenka is not only yet to drop a set in 2023, but the No. 5 seed hadn’t been pushed past four games in a set since coming to Melbourne, where she has been thought of as a favorite to win an as-yet elusive Grand Slam title.
That last stat came to an end thanks to some patchy early play from Sabalenka, who struggled with her serve and forehand as Bencic began far stronger to take a quick break advantage.
Sabalenka and Bencic last played on a brisk Dubai evening in 2019, where Bencic, now working with Sabalenka’s then-coach Dmitry Tursunov, saved a match point to earn her first of four Top 10 victories and a career-revitalizing title. Absorbing and redirecting Sabalenka’s pace in much warmer conditions on Rod Laver Arena, the 25-year-old Swiss looked similarly confident, moving within two games of the opening set with an ace.
For as frustrated as she surely felt, fans got a front row seat for the “boring” Sabalenka, the one who has opted out of flashes of anger in favor of using that energy to refocus on the next point.
“It feels like I wish I would be like that few years ago, you know,” she said somewhat ruefully earlier this week. “Finally, I understand what everyone was looking for and asking for.”
Still, for a moment, it almost looked like the 24-year-old had shown up flat for her biggest match of the season.
Instead, it was around this point that Sabalenka finally rediscovered her rhythm; after serving three double faults in one game, she only struck one more and she reeled off five of the next six games.
“It took me a little while to understand that negative emotions won’t help on court,” she added on court. “I just have to stay strong, believe on court, and do everything I can to get back in the score and win the match. I’m very happy with how I was inside during the match today.”
Growing in confidence—and still capable of excitement—she ended the set with 18 winners to 13 unforced errors, and it was Bencic who suddenly looked uncomfortable, giving into frustration and throwing in a double fault of her own on set point.
“Definitely today I felt like I couldn't handle her power,” Bencic admitted in press. “I think that was the biggest difference. But still, you know, I don't feel like this is a really bad loss. Like, she's for sure very in form right now and also playing very good.
“So I'm not, like, discouraged. I'm not like super devastated after this loss. I feel like I had a great start of the year. Yeah, I feel like I just want to go back and work harder and come back.”
Sabalenka carried her stronger serve—famously modified by a biomechanic expert—into the second set, putting increased pressure on return to break for what quickly became a 5-2 lead.
"I'm super happy that this thing with my serve didn't happen to me earlier," she reflected after the match. "Before I wouldn't be really open for that. I would be like, 'You know what, my serve is fine, I don't want to change anything.' Actually, even when my serve was working, it wasn't really right.
"In that moment open for whatever. I was just like, 'Please, someone help me to fix this fucking serve!' I'm sorry for swearing, but this is how it was. This is the true feeling."
By the end, she was striking winners at will, teeing off on the Bencic serve to earn a part of match points, converting her second with one last fearsome forehand.
In all, she landed an outstanding 32 winners to just 18 unforced errors, and looks as relaxed as ever as she prepares to face Donna Vekic for a spot in the semifinals.
She may be overdue for a first major victory, but after all of her improvements, something's got to give.