Fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka advanced to the last 16 of the Australian Open on Saturday and then declared she would have to “stay down like a tiger” to beat in-form Belinda Bencic.
The Belarusian extended his status as favorite for the year’s first Grand Slam with a 6-2, 6-3 win over 32nd-ranked Belgian Elise Mertens at the Margaret Court Arena.
Switzerland’s Bencic cruised to a 6-2, 7-5 victory over Italy’s Camilla Giorgi at the Rod Laver Arena.
Sabalenka explained how she will try to deal with the hard-hitting Bencic and her big serve.
“I think I have to be really aggressive in the first few shots and then the slow ball or the short ball will come,” Sabalenka told reporters at Melbourne Park.
“It’s all about quick footwork on the first few shots. I have to be ready like a tiger, stay low and be ready for it.”
Sabalenka needed just 74 minutes to defeat her former doubles partner Mertens — the pair have won five titles, including the Australian Open in 2021 — but said it was not as easy as it looked.
“It’s really hard to play against him, especially. He’s a great player, an incredible fighter,” said the powerful Sabalenka, who has yet to win a major.
“I knew it was going to be tough. I’m very happy that I was able to stay focused from start to finish to win this match because he’s an amazing player.”
Sabalenka, who has admitted to major match jitters in the past, said she had to stay focused as expectations grew that she could win a maiden Grand Slam title in Melbourne.
“Before that, in the second week, I remember being nervous. I was thinking too much, dreaming too much,” she admitted.
“I was very emotional on the court. I really believe that if I keep that same calm mentality on the court, I really believe that I can get it.”
Sabalenka and Olympic champion Bencic are both on a roll in Australia this year.
They each won titles in Adelaide earlier this month, both have yet to drop a set in Melbourne and are both now on seven-match unbeaten runs.
Something will have to give when they clash for a place in the quarter-finals on Monday.
“Sabalinka is a very aggressive player, has a lot of power,” said Bencic, who aims to become the second Swiss woman to win the Australian Open after 1997, 1998 and 1999 champion Martina Hingis.
Bencic, who last week returned to the world top 10 for the first time since 2021, has former Sabalenka coach Dmitri Tursonov in his corner for the fourth-round clash.
“Dmitri was his coach before, so he can help me a lot. I hope so,” Bensek said.
(Tags translated)Australian Open(T) Arina Sabalenka vs Elise Mertens