PARIS-Aryna Sabalenka booked her place in the French Open last 16 for the first time with a straight-sets win over Russian Kamilla Rakhimova at Roland Garros on Friday.
The Belarusian second seed is yet to drop a set in the tournament after a comfortable 6-2, 6-2 win against the world number 82. Sabalenka is one of the favourites for the championship after a fine start to the year, including securing her maiden Grand Slam triumph in Melbourne and lifting the Madrid Open title.
“Every tournament is a different tournament, Roland Garros is completely different to Australia, a different surface,” she said. “It’s really good to have a Grand Slam in your pocket – it gives you so much confidence.” Sabalenka will face either former US Open champion Sloane Stephens or Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva in the fourth round.
The first four games were shared before Australian Open champion Sabalenka reeled off the next seven in succession to take total control of the match. She ended a run of three consecutive third-round exits on the Paris clay after only 67 minutes.
American Pegula’s hopes of a deep run in Paris were ended in comprehensive fashion by Belgian Elise Mertens. The 28th seed cruised to a 6-1, 6-3 victory to reach the fourth round for the third time.
World number three Pegula, who only has two WTA Tour titles to her name, has still never passed the quarterfinal stage of a Grand Slam tournament.
“I’m very happy to win in two sets. She’sa very good player,” said Mertens. The former Australian Open semifinalist will next face 2021 runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Russian Daria Kasatkina, a semifinalist last year, raced into the second week by thrashing American Peyton Stearns 6-0, 6-1 in under an hour.
The ninth seed will face either compatriot Anna Blinkova or Elina Svitolina on Sunday for a place in the quarterfinals. Ukrainian Svitolina has reached the third round on her first Grand Slam appearance since the 2022 Australian Open.
DJOKOVIC SURVIVES DAVIDOVICH FOKINA BATTLE TO REACH FOURTH ROUND
Twice champion Novak Djokovic (36) huffed and puffed his way into the French Open fourth round with a 7-6(4), 7-6(5), 6-2 win over Spanish 29th seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (23) on Friday.
Djokovic came into the match on Court Philippe Chatrier having lost to Davidovich Fokina the last time they met in Monte Carlo. Djokovic creaked on serve but hit back when it mattered to level at 3-3 and edged the 83-minute first set with a blistering crosscourt winner that drew huge roars.
A charged-up Djokovic responded to an early break with two of his own but dropped serve again in the wildly swinging second set, before shrugging off three double faults at 5-5 and a time violation to double his advantage in another tiebreak. He called the trainer onto court for an apparent left leg issue, sparking fears the injury that accompanied his run to the Australian Open title in January had returned, but pulled away in the third set and crossed the finish line in style.
“A win is a win. The first two sets, three hours, I thought if I lose the second set, I will probably be playing five hours today,” said Djokovic, who will play 13th seed Hubert Hurkacz or Juan Pablo Varillas in the next round.
“You have to be ready. That is what Grand Slams are all about, playing best of five. You have to believe in yourself and make the most out of it. I am proud of the performance today.”