Aryna Sabalenka made a winning start to her clay-court campaign despite an emotional conclusion, overcoming an injured Paula Badosa, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 3-3, retired to reach the quarterfinals of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.

"I don't have any emotions right now," Sabalenka admitted on court after the abrupt end to what had been a quality clash between the two friends. "I'm not happy, I'm not sad. I just want to thank the people who stayed to the end of the match. I hope you guys can get a good rest and you'll be ok tomorrow! I have no words."

The No. 2 seed shook off a late start and some inspired hitting from her good friend and “tennis soulmate,” outlasting the former No. 2, who was dealing with a left leg injury, well after midnight on Thursday after almost two and a half hours on Stuttgart’s Center Court.

The besties known as “Sabadosa” were facing off in Stuttgart for a third straight year, with Sabalenka winning in straight sets in the 2022 semifinals and recovering from a set and a break down to defeat Badosa en route to the finals in 2023. Their most recent meeting came under more somber circumstances as the reigning Australian Open champion was reeling from the news that her ex-partner Konstantin Koltsov had taken his own life shortly before the start of the Miami Open.

Though Sabalenka defeated Badosa in Miami, she lost her next match to Anhelina Kalinina and sat out the next few weeks of action to emotionally recover, and as the second seed was granted a bye into the second round in Stuttgart.

Badosa, who herself endured mental health struggles earlier in her career, has largely dealt with physical issues since peaking at No. 2 in the WTA rankings in 2022, dealing with a longterm back injury that forced her out of three of the four major tournaments in 2023. Despite early exits in Miami and Charleston, where she lost to eventual champion Danielle Collins, Badosa has remarked on feeling healthier on court compared to earlier tin the season, when she was forced to retire from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and withdraw from the BNP Paribas Open, which she won back in 2021.


Looking for her first win over Sabalenka since the 2021 WTA Finals, Badosa, who began the week with a straight-sets win over Diana Shnaider, employed some clean ballstriking as Sabalenka often struggled to find her range, resulting in an early break advantage for the 26-year-old Spaniard.

Sabalenka responded with a break of her own and held on through a tense 12th game, saving two set points to force a first-set tiebreaker.

Badosa again had the upper hand to start the Sudden Death only for Sabalenka to roar back, winning six of the final seven points to take the first set after about an hour on court.

Undaunted, Badosa kicked off the second set with an early break of serve and prevented a Sabalenka surge in the sixth game, turning the tables on the two-time Australian Open champion to earn a double-break lead.

Sabalenka looked keen on avoiding a deciding set as she began to chip away at Badosa’s advantage, breaking her bestie as she served for the match and holding on to narrow the gap. Badosa worryingly called a medical timeout to address what appeared to be a lower back injury, leaving the court for further treatment.

Emerging from the break with a heavily strapped left thigh, Badosa nonetheless served out the set on her second opportunity, forcing a decider as the clock ticked closer to 1AM local time.

The third set saw Sabalenka deal with frustration as Badosa put pressure on her serve, outrallying her to win a long third game to nab the first break, and digging out of a 0-30 deficit to consolidate.

Just as Badosa appeared poised to clinch the sought-after upset, her first over a Top 5 player since 2022, the injury ovewhelmed her just as Sabalenka got back into the match, reeling off two games in a row and threatening to win a third when she made the emotional decision to retire.

Comforting her tearful opponent at net, Sabalenka will next face either No. 6 seed Marketa Vondrousova or 2023 Stuttgart semifinalist Anastasia Potapova.