Australian Open | Sabalenka survives as Swiatek cruises

No 2 seed, Aryna Sabalenka, has been having a torrid time of it of late but she is still alive at the Australian Open, in deep contrast to Iga Swiatek, who cruised into the 3rd round at Melbourne Park on Thursday.

Just starting the match with confidence was pretty important for me. I felt like I was dominating from the beginning, and after getting a couple of breaks, it was much easier to go forward. That was the key, basically. Iga Swiatek

The Belarusian World No 2 is struggling with her serve but she has skimmed down to the double-fault count dramatically at Melbourne Mark, having delivered 74 of them in her first 4 matches of the season in the run up to the opening Grand Slam of the year.

She is hanging in regardless, dropping sets but gut-sing her way through with phenomenal determination, while Garbiñe Muguruza, Spain’s 2nd seed, and Anett Kontaveit, seeded 6 from Estonia, have both fallen by the wayside at the hands of Alizé Cornet and Carla Tauson respectively.

On Rod Laver Arena, Sabalenka had to fight past China’s Wang Xinyu, 1-6 6-4 6-2, after serving up 12 double-faults in the first set alone, but she lost her serve just once more in the second and third, hitting only 7 more combined, to eke out the win.

“She hit really hard and served really well… It’s tough to play against her,” Sabalenka said. “I tried to stay as low as I can and just put the ball back. Make it simple.

“I already have a lot of experience playing without the serve and I just kept telling myself ‘you have enough shots to still win the match even if you cannot serve’ so, I think, this kind of mentality helped me stay in the game, and actually helped me find my serve.”

The Belarusian finished with 19 double-faults, but countered these with 5 aces and while firing 33 winners  and scattering 43 unforced errors to deny 100th-ranked Wang, who mustered only 21 winners to 27 miscues.

The 20-year-old Chinese has not got past the first round of a major in 3 previous attempts, but gave Sabalenka an almighty scare.

The Belarusian lives to play another day when she will need to figure out a way past Czech Marketa Vondrousova, the 31st seed, who was a 6-2 7-5 winner over Liudmilla Samsonova from Russia.

Iga Swiatek dropped just 4 games against Rebecca Peterson to cruise into the 3rd round at Melbourne Park on Thursday

© Paul Crock/AFP via Getty Images

Life was very different for Swiatek, the 7th seed from Poland, who only lost 3 games in her opener on Tuesday and was equally impressive against Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson, winning 6-2 6-2, and she now advances to the 3d round at Melbourne Park for the 3rd straight year.

Swiatek won 11 straight games against Britain’s Harriet Dart from 3-1 down, and started Thursday’s match against Peterson much quicker, winning 8 of the first 10 points as well as the first 4 games, and then taking 5 straight games en route to wrapping up the match in the second set.

“Just starting the match with confidence was pretty important for me,” Swiatek said after the match. “I felt like I was dominating from the beginning, and after getting a couple of breaks, it was much easier to go forward. That was the key, basically.”

Swiatek needed just 67 minutes to score her second win against the Swedish No 1 at a major in the span of a year, having beaten her in the same round of last year’s French Open with the loss of just 2 games.

The Pole said that she and new coach Tomasz Witkorowski had put together a game plan that accounted for their first meeting on hard courts.

“I was ready for everything,” she explained. “But I knew she’s going to play probably heavy forehand, a lot of topspin.

“I didn’t want to let her play her game on the forehand so, basically, I knew that if we were going to, for example, play backhand cross-court, I’m going to have more [of an] advantage.

“Going forehand on forehand, it may be pretty equal. I just knew this kind of stuff. But my coach wanted me to kind of have a game plan on every point, so we weren’t talking really specifically about every aspect of the game. It was more like [an] overall idea.”

Things are working out well with Witkorowski, who had to understand ‘going to the beach or going to the cinema’ would be part of Swiatek’s schedule, and that he had to work well alongside the Pole’s sports psychologist.

“Just be open-minded and maybe be sometimes patient because I like to discuss a lot,” Swiatek said of the working arrangement following her first-round win. “I’m not that kind of person who just listens and does stuff.”

Up next for Swiatek is a meeting with 25th-seeded Daria Kasatkina from Russia, who eased to a 6-2 6-3 win over fellow Pole Magda Linette.

“Grand Slams are never easy, so I wanted to start with a lot of confidence and for sure these two matches gave me a lot,” Swiatek said. “I’m finding my rhythm and the weather changed a little bit so I’ve got to get used to the conditions again, but yeah it’s great, I love it here.”

Aussie wild-card Maddison Inglis battled past Hailey Baptiste to reach R3 on Thursday

© Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Aussie wild-card Maddison Inglis got past American qualifier Hailey Baptiste, 7-6(4) 2-6 6-2, in 2 hours 7 minutes on Margaret Court Arena.

Both had upset heralded players in Round 1, with Inglis dispatching No 23 seed and US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez from Canada, while Baptiste took out former Top Tenner Caroline Garcia from France.

After cruising in a straight-sets win against Fernandez, Inglis beat Baptiste the hard way, twice serving for the first set before winning it in a tiebreak, and then taking 6 straight games from 2-0 down in the decider.

“I’m stoked,” said Inglis, after the roller-coaster match that featured 12 collective breaks of serve, 6 apiece. “To get another one here in Melbourne is really, really special.

“To play out there on Margaret Court [Arena] is something that you dream about. I’m feeling really grateful and lucky.”

Inglis is the first Aussie wild-card to reach Round 3 at her home major since Kimberly Birrell in 2019, and she has now won consecutive tour-level matches for the first time.

The Western Australian faces the very tricky Kaia Kanepi next, who followed up her first round upset of former AO champion Angelique Kerber with a 6-2 7-6(3) win over Czech Marie Bouzkova.

Elsewhere, Belgium’s Elise Mertens, the 19th seed, defeated Irina-Camilla Begu from Romania, and she will meet Zhang Shuai from China, who advanced to round 3 after her opponent, Elena Rybakina, the 12th seed from Kazakstan, retired injured at 6-4, 1-0 down.

Elise Mertens also reach the 3rd round with a straight sets with over Irina-Canilla Begu

© Patrick Hamilton/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images



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