Sabalenka books maiden berth in French Open 4th round; Alcaraz, Djokovic win

Paris, Jun 2 (EFE).- Belarusian world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka continued her steady march through the French Open draw on Friday, brushing aside 82nd-ranked Kamilla Rakhimova 6-2, 6-2 to reach the round of 16 of this Grand Slam event for the first time in her career.

The reigning Australian Open champion has yet to lose a set through three matches and will next take on the 2018 Roland Garros runner-up, American Sloane Stephens, who defeated Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 on Friday.

Sabalenka took full control after a slow start, digging herself out of a 2-2, Love-30 hole and then breaking her Russian opponent’s serve in the following game with massive baseline hitting to take a 4-2 lead.

The missiles continued to fly off the Belarusian’s racket toward the end of the set, which she closed out in 31 minutes thanks to a potent backhand return down the line followed by a backhand winner into the open court.

The No. 2 seed continued to cruise at the start of the second set, earning an early service break when she ranged to her right to keep the point alive with a squash-type shot and then responded well to her opponent’s drop shot to force an error.

She then kept applying pressure in the latter stages of the contest, using angles to open up the court and then finishing points off with her tremendous firepower.

Rakhimova had a chance to get back on serve with Sabalenka serving at 4-2 in the second set, but the Belarusian staved off a break point in that game and then clinched victory in just over an hour in the following game when her opponent hit a forehand over the baseline.

“I think every tournament is a different tournament, especially (the clay of) Roland Garros is a completely different surface to Australian Open (a hard-court major). It’s really good to have a Grand Slam in your pocket, it gives you so much belief. Every time on the court I’m just trying to play my best and hopefully do well here in Paris.”

In other women’s singles third-round results on Friday, Russian No. 9 seed Daria Kasatkina routed American Peyton Stearns 6-0, 6-1 but third-seeded American Jessica Pegula was soundly beaten by Belgium’s Elise Mertens 6-1, 6-3.

In men’s third-round action, two-time Roland Garros champion Novak Djokovic got more than he bargained for in the first two sets against Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina but he managed to win most of the big points for a 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 victory.

Despite the straight-set victory, the third-seeded Serbian spent three hours and 36 minutes on court, including an hour-and-a-half first set.

Next up for the 22-time Grand Slam champion will be Peru’s Juan Pablo Varillas, who upset Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz on Friday 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3), 4-6, 6-2.

Greek No. 5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas had a much easier time on Friday, downing Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman 6-2, 6-2, 6-3, but seventh-seeded Andrey Rublev was upset by Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego 5-7, 0-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3.

In Friday’s night match, Spanish world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz scored a surprisingly routine 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Canada’s Denis Shapovalov to set up an intriguing round-of-16 match up against talented Italian Lorenzo Musetti, who breezed past 14th-seeded Cameron Norrie of Great Britain 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. EFE


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