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Speedy Sabalenka races into second week at AO 2024

  • Vivienne Christie

If there was a time that Aryna Sabalenka considered herself a perfectionist, it’s a description she insists no longer applies.

DRAW: Australian Open women’s singles

“I used to be like that before,” the Australian Open’s defending champion said after demolishing Lesia Tsurenko in a breathtaking display of focused power to move into the AO 2024 fourth round. 

“Right now, I'm just trying to keep it simple and not try to make it perfect, because as soon as you start trying to make it perfect, everything goes wrong. I'm trying to be happy with what I have right now.”

And yet the world No.2’s progress to the second week is as close to perfection as most players would dare to imagine. With just six games surrendered in her earlier two matches, Sabalenka was flawless on Friday as she dismissed Tsurenko without the loss of a game.

“I'm super happy with the level I played,” said Sabalenka, who required only 52 minutes to secure her 6-0, 6-0 victory. “[I’m] just happy to get through this round.”

Following similarly fast wins over qualifiers Ella Seidel and Brenda Fruhvirtova, Sabalenka has amassed less than three hours of total court time in her progress to the second week. 

She is the first woman to reach the Australian Open fourth round with the loss of so few games since Victoria Azarenka in 2016. The 25-year-old also joins illustrious company in other ways. 

With her 10th straight match win in Melbourne – following the seven she claimed to lift the AO 2023 trophy – Sabalenka becomes the first woman to build such a win streak since Serena Williams in 2017 and 2019. 

The smooth progress ensures the Australian Open defending champion has avoided the perilous path of some highly seeded colleagues.

While world No.1 Iga Swiatek required an epic fightback to overcome Danielle Collins on Thursday, No.3 seed Elena Rybakina and No.5 Jessica Pegula both suffered upset losses in the second round. 

Sabalenka laughed off the suggestion that an increasingly open women’s draw meant the AO 2024 title was now “[hers] to lose”. 

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“Listen, it's tennis,” she responded. “As we see by some of the top players losing in the earlier matches that anything can happen, so I don't want to look that far. I'm just focusing match by match … I'm just trying to do my best and prepare myself as best I can for each match.”

Still, the signs suggest that as she grows in confidence Sabalenka could be an even better player than a year ago. 

Her only hint of trouble against Tsurenko came as she defended a break point in her first service game. The world No.2 did so easily and from there, was pushed to deuce only once on her own serve.

Sabalenka’s 16 winners against nine unforced errors were almost a reversal of Tsurenko’s numbers, with the Ukrainian managing seven winners against 15 unforced errors. 

Winning 54 points compared with 24 from Tsurenko, it is difficult to imagine areas that Sabalenka might target for improvement. 

Sabalenka during her match against Tsurenko

“Well, there is always something to improve,” she said. “That's why you just can't be happy with the level you are at right now, so you always have to keep moving, keep improving.”

Sabalenka has the chance to build on that progress when she faces Amanda Anisimova – who is contesting only her second tournament since announcing an indefinite break from the tour last May – for a place in the quarterfinals. 

“First of all, I’m happy that she's back on tour. Secondly, we had a lot of great matches against each other, always tough battles,” Sabalenka said of the American.

“I'm happy that my first week was not simple, but it wasn't super long matches. Yeah, first week is past. You know, now it's time to focus to the next week.

“I'm not expecting easy matches, because when you're getting to last stages of the tournaments, it's not going to be easy at all.

“I'm just trying to prepare myself as good as I can, and so make sure I bring my best level and I compete at a high level.”