LONDON (Reuters) – Belarusian second seed Aryna Sabalenka battled past a determined Elena Rybakina 6-3 4-6 6-3 at Wimbledon on Monday to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final for the first time in her career.
Rybakina broke Sabalenka in the opening game of the fourth round clash but the Kazakh, who came into the match having won a tournament-high 96% of her service games in the first three rounds, let her opponent off immediately as she failed to hold.
Sabalenka grew in confidence as the Court Three match wore on, sending down two straight aces to go up 4-2 before clinching the first set when world number 20 Rybakina double-faulted.
Sabalenka had needed three sets to overcome Rybakina during her title runs at Abu Dhabi this year and Wuhan in 2019 and the Belarusian trailed 3-1 in the second set before battling back to draw level but then lost her momentum.
Having made it one set apiece with her ninth ace, Rybakina held firm until 3-3 in the deciding set before dropping serve as Sabalenka raised her level to run away with the match.
“Against Elena it’s really important to serve well because she’s serving really well. It’s really tough to do something on her serve,” Sabalenka, who fired down 10 aces and hit 33 winners, told reporters.
“I’m really happy in the third set, in the last two games, I was dominating. I put her under pressure, stayed aggressive. I was following my game.
“At the same time it’s important to try to return everything you can on her serve and put her under pressure… I’m really happy. But this is not the final goal for me. I’m happy for now, but tomorrow is another match. I’m trying to stay focused.”
Up next for the 23-year-old world number four is 21st seed Ons Jabeur who upset former French Open champion Iga Swiatek 5-7 6-1 6-1.
Sabalenka was beaten in three sets by the Tunisian when they last met in the French Open round of 32 last year.
“That match I was really nervous. I wanted to win that match. I wasn’t staying aggressive. I was just trying to put the ball back. Against her, this is something you shouldn’t do. If she has the time, then she dictates the game,” Sabalenka said.
“…this time I’ll try to stay aggressive, try to focus on my game instead of thinking about everything that happens around.”
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; editing by Ed Osmond and Ken Ferris)