When Aryna Sabalenka and Coco Gauff squared off for the first time in Lexington just over two months ago, there was no telling who would prevail in a match full of ups and downs. Gauff would ultimately tip the scale in the third to clinch that quarterfinal meeting, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-4. But on Thursday, Sabalenka exacted her revenge in a sequel equally as topsy-turvy, mounting an impressive 1-6, 7-5, 7-6 (2) comeback at the J&T Banka Ostrava Open.
After battling to win the second set, the third-seeded Sabalenka found herself down a double break in the decider. Gauff reached 5-2 by winning an extended rally with a backhand lob that caught the baseline after Sabalenka opted to let it go by.
The 16-year-old had the match on her racquet twice. Gauff was two points away from victory at 5-4, 30-30, but a double fault brought up break point. On the ensuing point, she paid the price for a poor drop shot.
Winning four successive games, Sabalenka appeared primed to add one more and slam the door shut. Up, 6-5, 15-30, the 22-year-old worked to open up the court—only to push a forehand volley wide.
Gauff capitalized by executing a terrific drop shot-lob combination two points later to stop the bleeding and get herself into a tiebreaker.
All match long, Sabalenka maintained her brand of tennis by swinging away, and her backhand down the line proved to not only be a pivotal shot in keeping her in the encounter, but propelling her to the finish line.
In a final set that had everything, Sabalenka appropriately completed her day with an ace—shortly confirmed when Gauff's challenge indicated a perfectly-painted line. The hard-fought win was Sabalenka's after two hours and 14 minutes.
"After 2-5 in the third set, I didn't care at all about the result," Sabalenka said in an on-court interview. "I just keep saying to myself, focus on this point, focus on this ball. I just keep saying it until the end. It helped me to be like in the moment and not care about anything else.
"She's a great player, moving really well. It was really tough for me to make winners. Every point was like big rallies. Happy I could win this match, because for me, this is really a tough opponent."
Sabalenka will face Sara Sorribes Tormo in Friday's quarterfinals. The Spanish qualifier knocked out No. 8 seed Anett Kontaveit, 6-1, 6-4, a day earlier.
In other matches, a pair of home favorites were sent packing. Qualifier Veronika Kudermetova ousted No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, for her second win over the former No. 1 this year. Kudermetova also defeated Pliskova at 'Cincinnati in New York' in August and will next play Jennifer Brady. The American eased past Daria Kasatkina, 7-5, 6-2. Seventh seed Elise Mertens picked up her 30th match win of 2020 with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Czech Karolina Muchova, giving herself a chance to avenge a US Open blowout defeat to Victoria Azarenka.
Ons Jabeur defeated wild card Jelena Ostapenko, 6-4, 6-4, to confirm her place in the final eight. The Tunisian won 59 percent of her return points to break Ostapenko seven times from 11 opportunities. For a place in the semifinals, Jabeur will battle Maria Sakkari.