Aryna Sabalenka yesterday said that she tried to “stop thinking” about her serve and it worked well, with the world No. 2’s woeful double fault count improving as she stayed in contention at the Australian Open.
The Belarusian had tallied 31 double faults in two matches at Melbourne Park going into her match against Marketa Vondrousova on Margaret Court Arena, and 70 from four matches this season, but only hit 10 yesterday.
It helped her beat the Czech 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 and ensure passage to the last 16, where she faces unseeded Estonian veteran Kaia Kanepi, who overpowered Australian wildcard Madison Inglis 2-6, 6-2, 6-0.
“I was just trying to not really focus on my serve. Just trying to forget about my serve, and that was working today,” said Sabalenka, a semi-finalist last year at Wimbledon and the US Open. “I think it’s more mental, because I put a lot of pressure on myself about my serve, and the last matches I was trying to control everything on my serve — my legs, my arm, the ball toss. And it was overthinking.”
“I just stopped thinking. Like today, I was focusing only on the good jump and that’s it,” she said.
Despite her serving yips, Sabalenka found a way to survive her opening two rounds against players ranked in triple digits thanks to her explosive all-court ability.
She brought that to the fore again against Vondrousova after early wobbles.
On a hot day with ice packs out at the changeovers, Vondrousova took a 5-3 lead in the first set, and while Sabalenka only sent down four double faults, she could not turn it around.
Sabalenka also lost the first set in her opening two rounds, but found a way back and the 23-year-old responded with the same fighting spirit, immediately breaking the Czech to race 3-0 clear in the second.
She held firm, firing just three double faults, to seal the set and turned up the pressure on Vondrousova with an early break to move 3-1 clear in the third.
Two more breaks enabled her to romp to victory.
“Feels like I’m warming up in the first set and then I start playing,” she said with a smile.
“I really want to win it in two sets, and I think that’s why I’m getting so emotional in the first set, and that’s why I’m over-trying and I’m missing a lot,” Sabalenka added.
“And after the first set when you’re losing, you’re kind of: ‘Okay, maybe I don’t have to overhit it or to panic.’ So maybe that’s why,” she said.
The other winners in the women’s singles were: Simona Halep, Danielle Collins, Alize Cornet, Elise Mertens, Iga Swiatek and Sorana Cirstea.
In the men’s singles, world No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas did not drop a service game, despite losing a set, as he overcame Benoit Paire to reach the fourth round.
The Greek seemed on course for a straight-sets win, but decisively lost a tiebreak to the Frenchman before going on to see out victory 6-3, 7-5, 6-7 (2/7), 6-4 in 2 hours, 42 minutes on a steamy Rod Laver Arena.
Tsitsipas faces Taylor Fritz for a place in the quarter-finals after the American overcame Spanish 15th seed Roberto Bautista Agut 6-0, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.
“I’m pretty glad with the win. Benoit is one of the biggest talents in our game, he has a lot of feel for the game,” Tsitsipas said of his French opponent, who is ranked 56th in the world.
“It was a very important victory for me today and also very special to be playing on this arena and sharing that with the crowd,” he said.
However, Tsitsipas appeared not to realize the game was over after he had converted match point.
Paire dunked a forehand into the net on the first of three match points when serving to stay in the match, but Tsitsipas walked to the back of the court rather than approach the net.
The Greek turned around at the baseline with a look of surprise on his face, before walking forward to acknowledge Paire.
The others in the men’s singles to advance were: Daniil Medvedev, Maxime Cressy, Felix Auger Aliassime, Marin Cilic, Alex de Minaur and Jannik Sinner.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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