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Day 4 preview: Razor-sharp Sabalenka sticks to the script

  • Dan Imhoff

Aryna Sabalenka is hardly lacking in ideas on how to fill in time away from her day job.

Ice hockey games, boating in the Mediterranean, beach time and fashion shows fill her social media between a stacked schedule of tournaments and training stops.

MORE: Day 4 schedule of play

Following a season in which she famously landed her first major at Melbourne Park and enjoyed a stint as the world No.1, Sabalenka could have afforded herself the luxury of a more substantial break in the off-season.

Sabalenka is looking to keep a good thing going in Melbourne

Instead, Sabalenka has returned as sharp and hungry as ever ahead of a second-round showdown under lights with 16-year-old Czech wonder Brenda Fruhvirtova on Day 4, First Nations Day, at Australian Open 2024.

MORE: AO 2024 women's singles draw

Having roared into a final in the opening week of the new season in Brisbane and after she conceded just one game to Ella Seidel in her first outing as defending champion at Rod Laver Arena, it was clear the 25-year-old had few problems maintaining discipline. 

“When I am not working, like, on the days off … just sitting in the room or in the house doing nothing, for me, this is impossible,” Sabalenka said.

“I mean, I need the schedule. I need to wake up, I need to go do my job, then just have my free time, then do another practice.

“For me, staying at home, it's super boring … I find working hard is actually a lot of fun. I enjoy it.

“For me, that's not really tough to keep working hard, keep improving myself. I've been doing it my whole life.”

The second seed has never faced the 107th-ranked teenager, the younger of the highly-touted Fruhvirtova sisters who claimed her maiden Grand Slam singles win against Ana Bogdan after having won through qualifying for a second year in a row.

“We’re definitely going to watch her matches,” Sabalenka said.

“I saw a little bit of her game and she’s playing really great tennis, fighting for every point. I’m pretty sure that in future she’ll be a top player.”

Following the longest first-round match of his career in which he required four hours to subdue 18-year-old qualifier Dino Prizmic, top seed Novak Djokovic’s hopes of a more routine night at Rod Laver Arena will be met with fierce resistance when he meets home hope Alexei Popyrin.

MORE: Djokovic steadies to subdue plucky Prizmic

The 10-time Australian Open champion owns a win against the 24-year-old Australian, but it came almost four years ago in Tokyo.

MORE: AO 2024 men's singles draw

Djokovic has since added nine Grand Slam titles to his tally, while Popyrin has made giant strides from outside the top 100 to end his best season at world No.43.

Djokovic will relish the extra rest before taking on Popyrin

Closing the day session at RLA, Alex de Minaur chases a slice of revenge when he meets one of the masterminds behind Italy’s Davis Cup final triumph over Australia, 22-year-old Matteo Arnaldi, for the first time.

Tenth seed De Minaur said he considered the world No.41 “the guy that beat us” at Malaga last November after he advanced when world No.3 Milos Raonic retired with a hip injury in the opening round.

MORE: De Minaur gets early finish after Raonic retires

The world’s highest-ranked 16-year-old, Mirra Andreeva, returns to Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday when she faces three-time major finalist Ons Jabeur for the first time.

MORE: Andreeva - A Mirra-cle Rise

A year ago, Andreeva narrowly fell to good friend Alina Korneeva in a three-hour, 18-minute girls’ singles final on the same court.

The now world No.46 later channelled that heartache to qualify for the main draw at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, where she reached the third and fourth rounds respectively.

US Open champion Coco Gauff continues her bid for back-to-back hard-court majors when she meets fellow American Caroline Dolehide, while men’s fourth seed Jannik Sinner and last year’s finalist, seventh seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, also take to Margaret Court Arena in second-round action.