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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Friday, March 22, 2024

The court can feel like a magnifying glass or a safe space when players return to tennis from tragedy.

A grieving Aryna Sabalenka experienced a bit of both in Miami today.

More: Aryna Sabalenka's Boyfriend, Konstantin Koltsov Has Died at 42

Sabalenka showed strength and resilience beating best friend Paula Badosa 6-4, 6-3 to reach the Miami Open third round.

It was the 25-year-old Sabalenka's first match since the death of her ex-boyfriend, former NHL player Konstantin Koltsovv, by "apparent suicide" according to the Miami Dade Police on Monday morning in Miami.

In the most emotional encounter between the pair, Sabalenka showed strength and stinging shotmaking to beat Badosa for the first time on hard court.

Former world No. 2 Badosa said the match was "uncomfortable" given the tragic circumstances overshadowing it.

Ultimately, it was a bit liberating in that it gave both women the chance to "disconnect" from the pain of Koltsov's passing and play tennis.

"Well, honestly, both of us are pretty strong mentally," Badosa told the media in Miami afterward. "We're strong women. She proved it. I proved it.

"We knew how to disconnect in that two hours, one hours and a half of match. She played really well. I played really well for where I'm coming from. I think it was quite decent. That all comes from because we know we've been through a lot in our lives, we're strong women, and we know how to separate that in that moment."

Miami fans showed support for both women, greeting Sabalenka with a rousing ovation when she stepped on Grandstand.

Wearing the color of mourning on a dreary day—black Nike dress and matching black baseball cap—Sabalenka, who seldom wears a cap on court, managed the raw emotional wounds she's nursing with her fierce focus on the job at hand.

Later, Badosa, also clad in black, said the apparel color "was a coincidence. Nike's outfit."

The two-time Australian Open champion served 77 percent and saved the lone break point she faced.

At one point, a whipping wind gust blew the Belarusian's toss away from her. That prompted a smile from Sabalenka and cheers from fans, who shared the sentiment Badosa stated before the match: "I don't want her to suffer."

Though best friends facing off against each other can feel awkward and uncomfortable, seeing her buddy across the net seemed soothing for Sabalenka.

The close friends have had each others backs during painful periods of their careers.

Today, they embraced in a heart-felt hug at net sharing support on court.

Sabalenka, who has leaned on her friend for emotional support during this horrific time, rested her head briefly on Badosa's shoulder as they hugged it out.

"I wasn't surprised at all," Badosa said of Sabalenka's performance. "As I said, she's a very, very strong woman, strong personality. You can see it on the court. Especially I know her off court. It doesn't surprise me at all.

"I knew she was going to play very well or like normal. I told her I wish her the best. Let's see if she can go very deep in this tournament."

Embed from Getty Images

The second-seeded Sabalenka, who will not conduct press conferences during this tournament, will face 32nd-seeded Ukrainian Anhelina Kalinina for a spot in the round of 16.

It's the second straight match vs. a Grand Slam champion for Kalinina, who toppled former Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki 5-7, 7-5, 6-4 yesterday.

Photo credit: Robert Prange/Getty