Australian Open: Sabalenka, Bencic win to set up intriguing fourth-round clash (Ld)

Australian Open: Sabalenka, Bencic win to set up intriguing fourth-round clash (Ld)
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Melbourne, Jan 21 Fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka and No.12 seed Belinda Bencic continued their winning streaks as they won their respective women’s singles third-round matches on Saturday to set up a blockbuster Round-of-16 encounter in the Australian Open here

Bencic of Switzerland continued her excellent start to the season, claiming a 6-2, 7-5 victory over Italy’s Camila Giorgi to reach the fourth round. She was followed into the second week by Sabalenka, who maintained her undefeated run of 2023 by easing past her former doubles partner, No.26 seed Elise Mertens, 6-2, 6-3.

Bencic and Giorgi have not met since 2019 but the Tokyo Olympic Games gold medallist enjoyed a 3-2 head-to-head advantage going into their sixth clash. She is also on an unbeaten run in January, having begun the 2023 season with a bang, defeating players like Garbine Muguruza, Caroline Garcia and Daria Kasatkina en route to the Adelaide International title.

But Giorgi has a reputation for slaying seeds and that set the scene for an intriguing clash in the Round of 32 at Melbourne Park on Saturday.

However, Bencic held the upper hand in the first set and broke Giorgi’s serve in the third and seventh games to pocket the set 6-2. In the second set, the two players traded serve in the first two games before Bencic broke Giorgi’s serve again in the third game. She survived a tough eighth game which went to advantage four times before Bencic held her serve to lead 5-3.

Giorgi broke Bencic’s serve in the 10th game to make it 5-5 but the Swiss star broke right back in the 11th game and then held her serve to seal the set 6-4 and victory in one hour and 40 minutes.

Two years ago at Melbourne Park, Sabalenka and Mertens combined to bag a second major doubles trophy, their fifth as a team. It brought an end to the successful tandem as Sabalenka opted to focus her energies more on her singles.

While yet to break through that major semifinal barrier in singles the fifth seed has re-established herself after a rough year ironing out her wildly erratic serve. She entered this showdown without having conceded a set in her first six matches of the year, including a title in Adelaide leading in, and owned a 4-2 record against her former doubles partner, the WTA said in a report on its website.

While Mertens had not defeated a top-10 opponent since April 2021, she rebounded from the brink to deny Garbine Muguruza in the opening round.

The Belgian’s sole singles semifinal at a major came at the Australian Open five years ago and while she lacked Sabalenka’s firepower, Mertens’ consistency and retrieving aptitude posed a potentially frustrating foil.

China’s highest-ranked player Zhang Shuai brushed aside American qualifier Katie Volynets 6-3, 6-2 on Saturday to storm into the women’s singles fourth round of the Australian Open.

The 23rd-seeded Zhang gained a crucial break in the sixth game of the second set and then ran away with a one-sided victory in 63 minutes.

She had 20 winners in a polished performance on her 34th birthday to overwhelm 21-year-old Volynets, who had caused a major boilover in the second round by beating the ninth seed Veronika Kudermetova 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.

In the last 16, Zhang joins her compatriot Zhu Lin, who knocked out the sixth seed Maria Sakkari 7-6(3), 1-6, 6-4 in the biggest win of her career.

The 87th-ranked Zhu next plays the 24th-seeded Victoria Azarenka, who won the Australian Open titles in 2012 and 2013. The 33-year-old Azarenka wound back the clock with an upset third-round victory over the 10th seed Madison Keys 1-6, 6-2, 6-1.

–IANS

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