INDIAN WELLS, March 15 — Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka reached the Indian Wells quarter-finals for the first time yesterday, continuing her strong 2023 campaign with a battling 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 victory over Barbora Krejcikova.
Czech Krejcikova was the woman who ended Sabalenka’s perfect 2023 run with a victory over the Belarusian in the quarter-finals at Dubai last month.
She had a chance to extend the match, but Sabalenka saved a break point in the final game and closed it out.
“It’s always tough matches against Barbora,” Sabalenka said. “She played unbelievable tennis. I’m just super happy with this win.”
There’s been no let-down for the 24-year-old since she claimed her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne.
She admitted she was a bit taken aback by all the hoopla that attended the victory — such as a photo shoot with the trophy on a gondola in Melbourne — but decided to just go with it.
“I felt really weird,” she said. “It was just like so much attention to me (but) I was thinking ‘OK, I won my first Grand Slam, let’s just take it all in.’”
She has now reached two quarter-finals since then, and said not winning a major until she was 24 may have helped her keep her feet on the ground.
“I’m really glad that I won my first Grand Slam in this age, because I felt like if I would be 18 years old to win the Grand Slam, then I would be struggling for years,” she said.
“I understand that, yeah, that’s happened, and that was my dream. It was an amazing moment but time to move on. It wasn’t the only one goal.”
World number two Sabalenka has made no secret of the fact that she’d like to overtake Iga Swiatek atop the world rankings.
Swiatek, winner of the French and US Opens last year, is safe at the summit through Indian Wells and the Miami Open that follows, but Sabalenka is hoping to keep the pressure on by winning.
“I have this understanding that no matter what, I have to keep going, keep fighting,” she said.
She’ll fight for a semi-final berth against sixth-seeded American Coco Gauff, who rallied in the third set for a 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 victory over Swedish qualifier Rebecca Peterson.
“Playing-wise, obviously, there is a lot of things I can improve on for the next match,” said Gauff, who turned 19 on Monday. “Considering the circumstances I’m happy to be done with today.”
Whatever Gauff’s struggles yesterday, Sabalenka said she wouldn’t be taking the teenager lightly.
Gauff has won three of their four encounters, most recently at Toronto last year. — AFP