Women's singles fourth round
Despite a slow start, the fifth seed was again a master of composure under pressure as she produced a 7-5 6-2 victory.
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.
Story of the match
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.
While Bencic had success early stepping in, this ploy ultimately favoured Sabalenka as she ended up winning 54 of 86 rallies under five shots.
Sabalenka’s 32 winners were more than double her opponent’s and she was superior on serve, winning 78 per cent of first-serve points and 64 per cent on second serve to Bencic’s 63 per cent and 48 per cent, respectively.
What it means for Sabalenka
After three-set, fourth-round defeats to Kanepi and Serena Williams in the past two years, Sabalenka has at last broken new ground at Melbourne Park.
She will square off against Donna Vekic for a place in the semifinals after the Croatian’s three-set win over Czech teenager Linda Fruhvirtova.
“I want to believe that the way I'm working right now, the way I'm on the court right now, this is the new beginning, and this is the next step,” Sabalenka said. “So, I really want to believe that it's going to really help me.”
What next for Bencic?
Bencic departs her 30th Grand Slam main draw appearance with her fourth-round record at the majors at 3-4.
She has passed this stage only at the US Open. To progress at the other majors she can draw positives from her seven-match winning streak, her longest since claiming the gold medal in Tokyo and going on to a quarterfinal run in Cincinnati in 2021.
“Definitely today I felt like I couldn't handle her power,” Bencic said. “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.”