Misc Tennis

Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina reach 4th round at French Open

Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina reach 4th round at French Open

Grand Slam winners Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka reached the fourth round of the French Open in straight sets Saturday.

Former Wimbledon champion Rybakina, seeded fourth, beat Elise Mertens of Belgium 6-4, 6-2. Two-time Australian Open champion Sabalenka, seeded second, followed her on Court Philippe Chatrier and won against Paula Badosa 7-5, 6-1.

“It’s tough to play your best friend,” said Sabalenka, who improved her head-to-head record with Badosa to 5-2. “She’s an incredible player coming back after injury, and I’m pretty sure she’s going to be back on top very soon.

“On court we’re opponents. I’m trying not to watch on the other side, just trying to focus on myself and just bring my best game, but anyway they’re tough matches against her.”

It was for a while.

After trailing 5-3 in the first set, Sabalenka won eight straight games to take control. Sabalenka produced a superb drop to set up match point, and the knockout blow came in the form of an unforced error from Badosa’s racket, although that setback was quickly followed by a warm hug at the net.

“I was just feeling myself and trusting my shots,” Sabalenka said.

Badosa said their friendship does not affect how they play.

“We have a great relationship, and then when the match comes, we separate things,” she said. “We are opponents there, but after that and before that, we are always going to be friends.”

Former No. 1 Sabalenka’s best performance at Roland Garros was the semifinals, while Rybakina, the only player from Kazakhstan to win a major title, has one quarterfinal appearance.

Sabalenka, who is bidding to become the first player since Serena Williams in 2015 to claim the Australian Open and French Open titles in the same season, will face American Emma Navarro next after she defeated Madison Keys 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3).

In the fourth round, Rybakina will face 19th-ranked Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, who defeated 64th-ranked Ana Bogdan 7-5, 6-2.

Russian-born Varvara Gracheva of France also advanced to the fourth round of a major for the first time after downing Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania 7-5, 6-3.

For almost five hours, the only play was under the roofs of Court Philippe Chatrier and Court Suzanne Lenglen.

Singles play finally resumed elsewhere at 5:37 p.m. local time, and Elina Avanesyan beat Australian Open runner-up Zheng Qinwen 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6). Avanesyan led 5-2 in the third set, but Zheng forced a tiebreaker, making a long day even longer.

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