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By Alberto Amalfi | @Tennis_Now | Tuesday, February 20, 2024


World No. 31 Donna Vekic toppled No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka for the sixth time in eight meetings, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-0 in the Dubai second round.

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty

Aryna Sabalenka solidified her status as a worthy world No.2 with her run to a second straight Australian Open title.

The big-hitting Belarusian continues to come up second best when she meets Donna Vekic.

More: Delray Beach Final Photo Gallery By Matthew Calvis

World No. 31 Vekic reeled off nine consecutive games surprising Sabalenka 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-0 to reach the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships round of 16 where she will face Romanian Sorana Cirstea.

The 22nd-ranked Romanian rolled 13th-seeded Veronika Kudermetova 6-1, 6-4.

Cirstea, who beat former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in her opener, has not dropped a set en route to the round of 16.

This was Vekic's ninth career Top 5 win and 14th Top 10 victory. Vekic scored her biggest win, by ranking, since she defeated world No. 2 Petra Kvitova back in 2019. 

Riding an explosive baseline barrage, Sabalenka swept Coco Gauff and Zheng Qinwen in succession to successfully defend her Australian Open title last month. 

Playing her first match since that magical Melbourne run, Sabalenka scraped through a tight opening set only to see Vekic start driving the ball down the line with authority.

Vekic was one points from facing a one-set, 0-3 deficit, but held her nerve and conjured a wonderful slice winner from behind the baseline to save break point and draw even at deuce. Vekic battled back holding for 1-2 to spark her spirited comeback. 

Though Sabalenka won her most recent meeting with Vekic at the 2023 Australian Open quarterfinals when this match-up goes the distance, Vekic has the answer. The hard-hitting Croatian is 5-0 against Sabalenka when they go the three-set distance.

Vekic continued to open the court with crosscourt depth and often finish with down the line drives.

Vekic steamrolled through the decider defeating Sabalenka for the third time in their last four meetings, including a 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(3) victory at the Tokyo Olympics.

No. 4-seeded Elena Rybakina dropped the first set to Victoria Azarenka, won the second set and was level at 4-6, 6-2 when former world No. 1 Azarenka retired with an apparent leg injury.

It was Rybakina's Tour-best 16th victory of the season.

The 2022 Wimbledon winner will play Magdalena Frech for a quarterfinal spot. 


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