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Women's wrap: Saba scorches, Muguruza earns Osaka clash

  • Dan Imhoff

White hot Aryna Sabalenka must overcome seven-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams to reach her maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal, following a clinical victory over Ann Li on Friday.

MORE: Serena brushes slow start aside to paint winning picture

Last year’s finalist Garbine Muguruza was equally ruthless as she thumped Zarina Diyas for the chance to take on 2019 champion Naomi Osaka, while Czech 19th seed Marketa Vondrousova ended Sorana Cirstea's run to reach the second week at a major for the first time since her 2019 French Open runner-up showing.

MORE: Full schedule for Day 6

Sabalenka scorches Li, Serena awaits

Seventh seed Sabalenka was in complete control from the moment the first ball was struck on Rod Laver Arena on Day 5 as she clobbered the 20-year-old Li 6-3 6-1.

It marked the Belarusian’s first time through to the fourth round at Melbourne Park and meant she had claimed 18 of her past 19 matches.

“It wasn't really an easy match because she's moving really fast and playing a really quick game and the dead balls are coming from her and I would say it was really heavy balls,” Sabalenka said.

“I'm just trying to stay focused in the moment. I've been saying it since Abu Dhabi and I will keep saying it, but what I feel is maybe like I'm improving with every match.”

Serena Williams ended Anastasia Potapova's tournament

It was in Abu Dhabi where Sabalenka collected her third trophy from as many events, having rounded out 2020 as the champion in Ostrava and Linz.

Giant-killing Kaia Kanpei snapped her 15-match streak in the Gippsland Trophy at Melbourne Park last week, but the defeat came as a welcome reset, the chance to “switch off”, before a return to the practice court.

“It was good to lose that match, not because of the pressure but because it kind of put me back in the reality, you know, because I was like, I was trying to focus on the moment, but on that point I get like I was thinking like nobody can beat me,” she laughed. “This is so stupid, but like this is how it is. After the match I felt like, well, thank you, Kaia, that you bring me back into reality.”

Despite serving a 14-day hard lockdown the 20-year-old Li won four matches to reach the Grampians Trophy final last week before it was called off.

She opened her Australian Open campaign beating 32nd seed Shuai Zhang and Alize Cornet back to back, but the task of neutralising the huge-hitting Belarusian’s power proved too great on Friday.

Sabalenka was not broken and clocked 28 winners to 17 unforced errors.

She never looked in doubt and was up to the challenge of taking on Williams.

The 22-year-old recalled the first time she watched the 23-time major champion in full flight on television back home in Minsk.

“I think I said like, ‘I want to hit even stronger than her’,” she laughed. “I don't know if it was, was it smart or not, but on that point I was thinking like, ‘wow, she's really powerful. I want to be like powerful too, and like I want to dominate on the tour the same.”

The butterflies on John Cain Arena took a liking to Naomi Osaka

Muguruza lines up super-tasty Osaka clash

Spanish 14th seed Muguruza will face fellow major champion Osaka in a blockbuster fourth-round showdown after her 6-1 6-1 dismissal of Kazakhstan’s Diyas.

A runner-up to Ash Barty in Sunday’s Yarra Valley Classic final, the 27-year-old has now won nine of her past 11 matches.

MORE: Moving Ons: Osaka books fourth-round ticket

She has spent a mere three hours and 13 minutes on court at this Australian Open, having conceded only 10 games, and has averaged only seven unforced errors per set this week.

“I feel like today also my tennis was there. Very early in the match I tried to be there, to grab the dominance of the match,” Muguruza said. “Yeah, very pleased with this Grand Slam so far.”

“I feel like I'm doing the right shots at the right time, probably, trying to make my opponent be the one doing the unforced errors.”

Chinese Taipei’s Hsieh Su-Wei backed up her defeat of eighth seed Bianca Andreescu with a 6-4 2-6 7-5 victory over former top-tenner Sara Errani on Friday.

Hsieh will square off against 2019 French Open finalist Vondrousova, following the Czech’s 6-2 6-4 victory over Petra Kvitova’s conqueror Cirstea.