Brisbane | Seeds stay on track, except for one…

Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina, the two top seeds at the Brisbane International presented by Evrie, are in ominous form as they dispatched Zhu Lin and Elise Mertens with the loss of just 2 games between them.

I have really amazing, amazing memories from last year. I really did a great job in the pre-season, make sure I have chances to replicate the same results I did last season. Aryna Sabalenka

Form was mostly maintained by the remaining seeds, except for 6th-seeded Veronika Kudermetova, who fell to Russian compatriot Anastasia Potapova, the 11th seed, 7-5 6-7(7) 6-4, on Thursday.

Sabalenka swiftly completed her 13th consecutive win in Australia as the Belarusian bids to defend her title in Melbourne, and keep up the pressure on Iga Swiatek’s World No 1 ranking.

“Yeah, it’s been an amazing tournament for me,” Sabalenka said in her on-court interview. “Of course I’m super happy with the level, with the win today. I feel I’m going to do really well here.”

Elena Rybakina dropped just game in seeing off Elise Mertens to make the Last 8 in Brisbane

© Patrick Hamilton//AFP via Getty Images

The first game was a 9-minute marathon, won by Zhu on her 3rd break point opportunity when Sabalenka’s backhand soared long.

The top seed, who landed only 3 of 12 first serves, was visibly frustrated as Zhu equalled the total number of games she had taken in her last match against Sabalenka, in 2019 at Strasbourg, but the World No 2 broke back immediately, and began to settle, getting back to business.

Up 3-0 in the second set, Sabalenka saved 2 more break points, one with an ace, and prevailed in the longest game of the match, but with Zhu unable to deal with the Belarusian power, it took just 69 minutes to see the No 1 seed over the finish line into the quarter-finals.

Tellingly, Sabalenka has dropped just 4 games in her two outings thus far, and looked very sharp producing a total of 17 aces, alongside 3 double-faults and converting 10 of 16 break points.

The 25-year-old defending champion at the Australian Open is out to replicate her strong start to the 2023 season when she won in Adelaide prior to rolling through the Grand Slam to claim her maiden Major.

“I have really amazing, amazing memories from last year,” she said before the tournament. “I really did a great job in the pre-season, make sure I have chances to replicate the same results I did last season.”

Sabalenka moves on to meet Daria Kasatkina, the Russian 5th seed, in Friday’s quarter-finals, who took out Magda Linette, 6-4 6-2, improving to 4-2 overall against the Polish 9th seed.

Earlier in the day, 2nd-seeded Rybakina simply steam-rolled over Mertens, the 13th seed from Belgium, by the same scoreline as Sabalenka of 6-1 6-0.

Rybakina was near flawless as she claimed 56 of the 84 points, and broke Mertens’ serve 5 times.

The Kazakh is set to take on another Russian opponent after Potapova claimed a 3-set win over Kudermetova.

The top 3 seeds have all won through to the quarter-finals and half of the 8 players left in the draw have won at least one Grand Slam title.

If form and seedings holds true, the two Australian Open finalists from a year ago should face off in the final in Brisbane as the WTA 500 event returns to the schedule after rain delays.

Victoria Azarenka has won the title twice in Brisbane and remains on track after defeating Clara Burel in straight sets on Thursday

© William West/AFP via Getty Images

Two-time former champion Victoria Azarenka became the first player through to the quarters, courtesy of a 7-5 6-2 win over France’s Clara Burel.

The No 8 seed from Belarus, the World No 23, needed an hour and 33 minutes to end a firm challenge from 22-year-old Burel, a former junior World No 1 now ranked 56, in their first-ever meeting.

After Azarenka built a 4-1 lead in the first set, the match got complicated, and she lost 3 straight games, while Burel had a break point for a 5-4 lead, before the Belarusian re-asserted herself in an eventual straight-sets win.

The 34-year-old is through to the quarter-finals at the tournament for the 5th time in her career, having won titles in Brisbane in 2009 and 2016, and being a finalist in 2014.

Burel more than doubled Azarenka’s winner total, 30 to 14, in defeat, but also hit more than twice the number of unforced errors, 22 to 10, but the key to the match came in break point conversion, with both creating 5 chances and the Belarusian breaking 4 times to Burel’s once.

“I think she played really well. I have to give her credit,” Azarenka said afterwards. “She was changing up the game, really passing me so well today.

“I was trying to be aggressive, come to the net, but I felt like she was really on top of me. She did some amazing passing shots, some counter-attack balls.

“I felt like I started really well, and maybe [then] let her play her game too much. It was a very competitive match. Whenever I needed, I was able to step up my game.”

Jelena Ostapenko suffered in the heat and humidity but prevailed over Karolina Pliskova to make the Last 8 in Brisbane

© William West/AFP via Getty Images

Azarenka will now face another Grand Slam champion, 3rd-seeded Jelena Ostapenko from Latvia, in the quarter-finals.

Ostapenko advanced by overcoming No 16 seed Karolina Pliskova from the Czech Republic, 6-2 4-6 6-3, in 2 hours and 17 minutes on Thursday.

The 26-year old had to overcome both the heat and her Czech opponent to advance, and needed assistance from the trainer during the third set as she struggled with the humidity.

The 2017 Roland Garros champion and the former World No 1 came into the match deadlocked at 5 wins apiece in their head-to-head record, and it was bound to be another close battle before Ostapenko took command in the final set, winning 4 of the last 5 games.

Ostapenko boldly saved 8 of the 11 break points she faced in the match, while big-serving Pliskova fired 18 aces, but only won 31% of her second-service points.

“It was very, very humid and at one point I had really low energy,” Ostapenko said. “I’m coming from winter where it’s minus 15 right now and here it’s 35 degrees.

“It’s a little bit different — it’s the same for everyone but I need a little time to get used to it.”

The Latvia snapped the Czech’s 10-match winning streak at the Brisbane International, the last of which came in the form of a 3-set defeat of another former World No 1, Naomi Osaka.

Pliskova is a 3-time Brisbane champion, including at the two most recent editions of the tournament in 2019 and 2020.

16-year old Mirra Andreeva continues to impress as she took out Aussie wild-card Arina Rodionova to reach the quarter-finals in Brisbane on Thursday

© Patrick Hamilton/AFP via Getty Images

Another Czech, Linda Noskova, also progressed to the quarter-finals with a 6-1 6-7(7) 6-3 win over Argentine qualifier Julia Riera, and she lines up to face Mirra Andreeva, the 16-year old Russian prodigy, who took out Aussie wild-card Arina Rodionova, 6-1 6-1.

Andreeva stunned the tennis world in 2023, and continues in 2024, which will be her first full season on the WTA Tour, despite still being only 16.

She bested compatriot Diana Shnaider in 3 sets, and, in the 2nd-round, she totally stunned the 4th-seeded Liudmila Samsonova.

Rodionova has also had one of the tournaments of her life, beating Italy’s Martina Trevisan, and surprising American Sofia Kenin from the 2nd-round of the event.

When the Australian clashed with the Russian teenager, though, she stood little chance.

In the first set of the match, Andreeva won all of her points after the first serve, and she troubled her opponent on the return.

As a result, she created a total of 9 break point chances, while not facing any herself.

After converting 3 of these, she comfortably won the opening set and continued to dominate in the second, facing just one single break point when leading 3-1 with a break in hand.

Andreeva routinely saved it like a veteran, and broke her opponent once more for good measure.



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