Melbourne: Ruthless world No 2 Aryna Sabalenka warned on Sunday she is stronger now than when she won her maiden Grand Slam in Australia as her imposing march towards another title gathered steam.
The Belarusian was in total control against unseeded American Amanda Anisimova on Margaret Court Arena, blazing home 6-3, 6-2 in 70 minutes to make the quarter-finals.
Sabalenka has dropped a scant 11 games in her four matches and with top seed Iga Swiatek out of the tournament, is the clear favourite to win a second Grand Slam.
Should she do so, she will be the first woman to retain the title since compatriot Victoria Azarenka completed the feat in 2013.
“I think I feel stronger than last year. So far I feel good. Hopefully I just can keep it up,” said the 25-year-old, who has embraced her status as reigning champion in Melbourne.
“I’m getting stronger because I enjoy the atmosphere and I really want to stay here as long as I can, till the very last day.”
She is the first player to win 11 consecutive matches at the Australian Open since Serena Williams between 2017 and 2019. Williams did not play at the tournament in 2018.
Sabalenka also became the youngest player to reach six consecutive women’s Grand Slam quarter-finals since Amelie Mauresmo, who achieved the feat between the 2003 US Open 2003 and 2005 Australian Open.
Turning the tables
Despite a breakthrough year in which she made the semi-finals in Paris and at Wimbledon before losing to Coco Gauff in the final of the US Open, she said nothing had changed.
“I would say that I thought I will feel differently after winning a Grand Slam,” she said.
“It’s no different. You still feel the same. You still have to bring your best tennis. You still have to fight for it. It’s exactly the same feelings like I had one year ago.”
Anisimova, who is on the comeback trail after an eight-month break for burnout and mental health issues, won her first four encounters against Sabalenka.
But her opponent turned the tables the last time they met, in Rome in 2022, and with Anisimova now ranked 442 the writing was on the wall.
She had no answer to Sabalenka’s devastating power in the first set.
The second seed scored a break in game two when Anisimova netted a forehand, with the American saving a break point in her next service game to avoid falling even further behind.
But she was being bossed by Sabalenka and it was only a matter of time before she wrapped up the set.
It was a similar story in the second set, with Sabalenka taking advantage of unforced errors from Anisimova during her opening service game for the crucial break.
Another break put her 5-2 in front and she served out for the match.