Serena survives hard-hitting thriller against Sabalenka

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Serena Williams battles past Aryna Sabalenka on Sunday afternoon to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. Either Simona Halep or Iga Swiatek is next for the 39-year-old.

Serena Williams‘ bid for record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title is still alive at the 2021 Australian Open.

Williams was actually the betting underdog in her fourth-round matchup with Aryna Sabalenka and it was every bit as tough as advertised for for the 39-year-old. Sabalenka threw everything she had at Williams in what was a predictably huge-hitting affair, but the American’s experience saw her through to a 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 victory after two hours and nine minutes on Sunday.

Back-and-forth first two sets

Sabalenka had never been past the fourth round of a major, and her inexperience showed early on Sunday. The Belarusian was stout with her booming serve through her first four service games, but the pressure mounted at 4-5. Trying to stay alive in the opening set, Sabalenka couldn’t do it. The first break of the afternoon went Williams’ way, as she fought off one game point before capitalizing on her second break-point opportunity.

In the second set Sabalenka was quick to turn things around. A surprising four service breaks were exchanged between the two big servers, and three of them went to the 22-year-old.
Aryna Sabalenka, Abu Dhabi, 2021

Serena too strong in the end

Sabalenka threw away her momentum by starting slow in the third. She faced a break point in the opening game, albeit saving it with a service winner. However, the world No 7 was not as fortunate in her second service game at 1-2. Three consecutive errors starting at 15-15 handed the break to Williams. A crucial fifth game immediately thereafter saw Williams recover from 15-40 down to hold for 4-1. But it was not yet smooth sailing for the world No 11, who dropped serve at 4-2 and eventually saw things deadlocked at 4-4.

A clutch hold by Williams put the pressure on Sabalenka at 4-5. Similar to the first set, Sabalenka could not come up with the goods when it mattered most. Williams broke serve easily to clinch victory in style.

“I felt like I needed to come out of the starting blocks really fast,” Williams reflected. “In the second set I felt like I was doing the right things but not winning the key points…. I just felt like even games that I lost, I was so close to winning — not all games, but probably most of those games. I just needed to play better on the big points. I knew that I could. I still hadn’t reached my peak. I was like, ‘Okay, Serena, you got this, just keep going.’… I didn’t want to be out of the tournament, so it felt good to kind of clutch that in the end and get through that.”

Road remains tough

Next up for Williams is either Simona Halep or Iga Swiatek, who will play a night-session match in Rod Laver Arena.

The other quarter-final in the loaded bottom half of the draw pits Naomi Osaka vs.against Hsieh Su-wei. Osaka survived a three-set thriller against Garbine Mugurza — saving two match points in the process — while Hsieh cruised past Marketa Vondrousova.

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