Aryna Sabalenka underlined her title credentials by overcoming a challenging contest with American Sloane Stephens, 7-6 (5), 6-4 to advance to the quarter-finals of Roland-Garros.
In the first women’s match of the evening session so far this tournament – on day eight – there was some apprehension as to what sort of spectacle the match would be, especially given the nature with which Sabalenka can blow her opponents off court.
For the first five games of the match, that was exactly what looked like happening, as the Belarusian’s imposing game completely overwhelmed the American.
A gripping opening set for the Roland-Garros night session
Sabalenka moved rapidly into a 5-0 lead, with Stephens unable to assert herself in baseline exchanges. What transpired for the rest of the opening set, however, was an utterly captivating fightback as Stephens found her range and began to show the sort of form that brought her a Grand Slam title in New York in 2017.
Serving to avoid a bagel, Stephens steadied the ship by getting her first game on the board. As Sabalenka served for the set, Stephens began to swing ever more freely, hugging the baseline and forcing her opponent into rushed decisions which led Sabalenka’s error count to rapidly mount.
Stephens broke to extend the set, before fending off a break and set point while serving at 5-2. The American went on to hold her serve, before breaking a visibly rattled Sabalenka again to move back on serve at 5-4.
An epic game then followed, with Stephens saving a further three break points before finally getting that game on the board to complete the comeback at 5-5.
The world No. 2, however, has built an incredible season’s work through a steely mentality epitomised by her ability to fight hardest when her back is against the wall.
The Belarusian’s intimidating serving returned in the eleventh game before Stephens also held to ensure that a tiebreak brought a scintillating set to a fitting end.
The breaker was every bit at tight as the set that preceded it, but it was Sabalenka who edged it, Stephens shanking a forehand long to hand the advantage to her opponent.
Sabalenka wins in two in front of absorbed Roland-Garros crowd
In the second, Sabalenka exerted more pressure by moving a break up in the fifth game, before Stephens once again displayed her tenacity by upping the aggression and earning the break back in the eighth game.
The Belarusian broke straight back, however, before serving out to survive a truly testing encounter from a resurgent Stephens.
“It was an amazing match, a great fight, she’d played unbelievable tennis. Coming back from that score, it’s something unbelievable. I think I was a little bit lucky in the first set to get that set”, Sabalenka said in her on-court interview.
The world No. 2 was also quick to thank the crowd, which was greeted with cheers.
“Thank you everyone again for the support and for the atmosphere. I really didn’t expect that much people watching our match. It was a really amazing atmosphere. Thank you, thank you so much.”
Sabalenka will play Ukrainian Elina Svitolina next, in what will be a highly-anticipated contest between two very in-form players.
For tournament organiser Mauresmo, meanwhile, it can be said with some confidence that the first evening session awarded to a women’s match was a great success. Perhaps a few more will now follow in week two of this engrossing Roland-Garros.
Paris (Grand Slam), other last 16 results (Stade Roland-Garros, clay, EUR 49.600.000, most recent results first):
- Anna Karolina Schmiedlova vs. Coco Gauff
- Iga Swiatek vs. Lesia Tsurenko
- Bernarda Pera vs. Ons Jabeur
- Sara Sorribes Tormo vs. Beatriz Haddad Maia
- Elina Svitolina beat Daria Kasatkina (9): 6-4, 7-6 (5)
- Karolina Muchova beat Elina Avanesyan (LL): 6-4, 6-3
- Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova beat Elise Mertens (28): 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3