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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, January 22, 2022

 
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Aryna Sabalenka cleaned up her serve when it mattered most conquering Marketa Vondrousova 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the Australian Open fourth round.

Photo credit: Getty

A scattershot serve cast a cloud of uncertainty over Aryna Sabalenka at the start of this Australian Open.

The second-seeded Sabalenka continues to silence skeptics with a steely spine—and sharper serve.

More: Osaka on Pride and Perspective in Defeat

Sabalenka streaked through six straight games sealing a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Marketa Vondrousova surging into the Australian Open fourth round for the second straight year.

Credit Sabalenka for refusing to let her service woes wither her ground game or her appetite for the fight—she rallied from a set down for the third straight match.

Sabalenka slapped 12 double faults coming back from a set and a break down in her opening-round win over Aussie wild card Storm Sanders. Sabalenka then overcame a 19-double fault struggle rallying from love-5 down in a 1-6, 6-4, 6-2, second-round win over 100th-ranked Xinyu Wang.

Facing former French Open finalist Vondrousova, Sabalenka continued to go after serve with aggression at crunch time today. She committed three of her 10 double faults in the final set and joked about the state of her serve after a gritty win.

“I’m really happy right now and mostly I’m happy I made only 10 double faults,” Sabalenka said thrusting her arms in the air with a smile during her post-match interview. “And of course guys thank you so much for the support. The atmosphere was unbelievable here today.

“She played an unbelievable tennis today. I pushed myself very hard and I’m really happy with this win.”

Tennis Express

After successive semifinal appearances at Wimbledon and the US Open, Sabalenka will play Kaia Kanepi for a place in her first Australian Open quarterfinal.

Earlier, the 115th-ranked Kanepi converted seven of nine break points ending the run of Aussie wild card Maddison Inglis 2-6, 6-2, 6-0. The 36-year-old Kanepi beat Sabalenka, 6-1, 2-6, 6-1 at the 2021 Melbourne 500 Gippsland Trophy tournament.

At the outset today, Vondrousova took charge breaking in the opening game—one of two breaks for the Czech lefty in the opening set.

Redirecting the Belarusian’s blasts accurately, Vondrousova spun a forehand down the line for set points. Curling the twisting lefty slider serve out wide, Vondrousova took a one-set lead after 38 minutes.

The Olympic silver medalist managed just three games against Sabalenka in a Miami Open thrashing last March, but Vondrousova played cleaner tennis and converted two of four break points in the first set.

Sabalenka shrugged off a break point to start the second set then slammed a crosscourt backhand to break for a 2-0 second-set lead.



Serving for the second set, Sabalenka showed some fine feel creating a sharp-angled backhand winner crosscourt.

The second-seeded Sabalenka slammed shut the second set forcing a decider. Sabalenka, who served 59 percent with four double faults in the first set, began hitting her targets more frequently in the second set. Sabalenka served 73 percent and won 20 of 22 first-serve points in that second set.

Playing off her front foot and taking the initiative in rallies, Sabalenka hit a series of deep drives drawing the error to take a 2-1 lead in the decider—her first lead of the match.

Sabalenka staved off a break point firing a forehand winner down the line. That key strike helped her back up the break for 3-1. While a fired-up Sabalenka was growing louder and bolder, Vondrousova was playing more reactive tennis.

Wearing identical red Nike outfits, the pair were displaying disparate energy levels. Stepping inside the baseline, Sabalenka slashed a forehand winner down the line breaking again for 4-1.

Punishing heavy returns right back at the Czech’s feet, Sabalenka scorched a forehand winner to close the win on a six-game surge. Sabalenka is striving for simple serve aim: improve each match.

"I had some trouble. I don’t expect in the next match a great serve," Sabalenka said. "I’ll just keep working on my serve and keep hoping it’s a little bit better with every match.

"I just want to focus game by game I just want to push myself and see how far I can go."

 

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