Melbourne: Aryna Sabalenka overpowered Belinda Bencic 7-5 6-2 to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals for the first time on Monday, getting her head straight after going down an early break to blast her Swiss opponent off the court.
The 24-year-old Belarusian will face Croatian Donna Vekic or Czech teenager Linda Fruhvirtova in the last-eight as she looks to book a spot in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam for the fourth time.
With hot favourite Iga Swiatek having made a fourth-round exit on Sunday, the race for the Daphne Akhurst Trophy looks wide open this year.
Sabalenka looks to have as good a chance as anyone of claiming a first Grand Slam title if she can conquer the demons that sometimes take hold when her power game is not working as well as she would like.
In the first seven games of the contest between the winners of the two warm-up tournaments in Adelaide, the Belarusian was shaking her head and muttering to herself as she made 12 unforced errors and went a break down to Swiss Bencic.
There were to be only six more over the rest of the contest as Sabalenka found her groove and started to fire down howitzer serves and big forehands that put Bencic under huge pressure.
She broke back for 4-4, survived a wobble after a double fault when Bencic threatened to break straight back, and went 1-0 up when her Swiss opponent produced a double fault on set point.
Sabalenka raced to a 3-1 lead in the second set, again responding with almost unplayable power when Bencic took a 30-0 lead in game seven, and wrapped up the victory with a huge forehand for her 32nd winner. “I’m super happy with the win today, she’s an unbelievable player and she played so good,” she said. “I’m super happy with the level today.” Sabalenka credited her eight-match winning streak from the start of the season to her fitness coach but conceded she was still learning how to deal with setbacks on court.
“It takes me a while to understand that negative emotions are not going to help you on court,” she said. “You have to just stay strong and believe no matter what and do everything you can to get back on the score.
“Just super happy with the mindset today. Hopefully I can just keep it up.” Fourth seed Caroline Garcia is also in fourth-round action in Monday’s day session, while nine-times men’s champion Novak Djokovic and his injured hamstring will be in the spotlight when he takes on Australian Alex de Minaur in the night session.