Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina reach 4th round at French Open

Second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka temporarily put her friendship with Spaniard Paula Badosa on the back burner to secure a hard-fought 7-5, 6-1 third-round victory at the French Open on Saturday and keep alive her hopes for a first Roland Garros title.

“It’s tough to play your best friend. She’s an incredible player coming back after injury, and I’m pretty sure she’s going to be back on top very soon,” said Sabalenka, who improved her head-to-head record with Badosa to 5-2. “On court we’re opponents. I’m trying not to watch on the other side, just trying to focus on myself and just bring my best game, but anyway they’re tough matches against her.”

The pair have enjoyed a strong bond since 2021, but there was no quarter given in a seesawing first set as they swapped early breaks before Badosa attacked Sabalenka’s powerful serve in the sixth game, edging ahead with a return that hit the net cord.

Spurred into action, the powerful Australian Open champion broke back and let out a scream that was met with cheers from fans on Court Philippe Chatrier before she recovered another loss of serve against her fellow 26-year-old.

Sabalenka, a semifinalist at Roland Garros last year, hit a monster forehand to go up 6-5 and came up with a delightful backhand slice from deep en route to closing out the opening set, as world No. 139 Badosa reflected on her missed opportunities.

Badosa, who had been ranked as high as No. 2 but has struggled with a back problem in recent years while Sabalenka captured two Grand Slam titles, got off to a disappointing start in the second set as her Belarusian opponent reeled off four games in a row.

Sabalenka produced a superb drop to set up match point, and the knockout blow came in the form of an unforced error from Badosa’s racket, although that setback was quickly followed by a warm hug at the net.

“Some days it’s actually getting more complicated to play,” Sabalenka said of the variety in her game. “You have so many options, you’re thinking too much, but today was a day where I wasn’t thinking that much. I was just feeling the game, and I was trusting myself and just was going for all the shots.”

Sabalenka, who is bidding to become the first player since Serena Williams in 2015 to claim the Australian Open and French Open titles in the same season, will face an American next, either 14-seed Madison Keys or 22-seed Emma Navarro.

Also Saturday, world No. 4 Elena Rybakina continued to fly under the radar as she enjoyed a routine 6-4, 6-2 win over Belgium’s Elise Mertens to ease into the fourth round.

Rybakina, a former Wimbledon champion, is looking to improve on her best performance on the Paris red clay of quarterfinalist, in 2021.

The Russian-born Kazakh player lost her serve twice in the first set but maintained the upper hand by breaking all of Mertens’ remaining serves in the set.

Strong shots and better serving in the second set allowed the 24-year-old Rybakina to end the match in little over an hour.

“In the second set, I was playing with a bit more confidence and my serve improved,” Rybakina said.

The two women had met five times previously, with Rybakina leading by four wins to one.

In the fourth round, she will face 19th-ranked Elina Svitolina of Ukraine or 64th-ranked Ana Bogdan of Romania.

Information from Reuters was used in this report.

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