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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Sunday, May 12, 2024


World No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka won seven of the last nine games beating Dayana Yastremska 6-4, 6-2 to reach the Rome round of 16.

Photo credit: Mike Hewitt/Getty

Red clay can erupt into a black-and-blue experience when Aryna Sabalenka is calling the shots.

Few players can bruise the ball with the punishing power of Sabalenka and Dayana Yastremska.

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Today, Sabalenka spun the shot spectrum disarming nemesis Yastremska 6-4, 6-2 to charge into the Rome round of 16.

Shifting spins to defuse the flat-hitting Yastremska, Sabalenka deployed the kick serve, slick backhand and some heavy topspin forehands at times to drain errors.

Decisive on serve, Sabalenka saved both break points she faced and broke Yastremska three times.

The two-time Australian Open champion won seven of the last nine games, prevailing in a pivotal and marathon 15-minute game to break for a 2-1 second-set lead to take charge.

It is Sabalenka’s seventh win in her last eight matches—-and first victory in four meetings vs. nemesis Yastremska.

"I got more stuff in my pocket to get this win against her," Sabalenka told the media in Rome. "Yeah, our last matches were a long time ago when I was kind of, like, on and off. I was just trying to find my way.

"I was going quite confident into this match knowing that I have everything to get the win. I'm super happy to finally get the win against her."

Carrying a 3-0 career record over Sabalenka onto court—as well as ongoing bad blood between Ukrainian and Belarusian players over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—Yastremska pressed the issue immediately.

World No. 32 Yastremska earned break points in both the fourth and sixth games, but Sabalenka stood strong. Hitting the heavy kick serve on the ad side, Sabalenka saved both break points and stayed on serve.

The second-seeded Sabalenka rapped a heavy forehand strike down the line breaking at 30 to go up 4-3.

The feisty Yastremska saved two match points fending off Laura Siegemund in her Rome opener and was fist-pumping as she held for 4-5.

Turning her shoulders into a crunching crosscourt forehand, Sabalenka earned double set point. When Yastremska sailed a forehand, Sabalenka snatched the 39-minute opener.

It was the first set Sabalenka won from Yastremska since the opening set of their first meeting at the 2017 St. Petersburg quarterfinals.

Both women can deliver dynamite strikes from the baseline, but both showed fantastic feel in a short slice duel that ended with Sabalenka sliding a sharp backhand pass down the line for double break point.

Yastremska saved the first snapping off an ace and the second when Sabalenka botched a backhand into net admonishing herself for giving it away.

On break point No. 3, Sabalenka hit a dropper that sat up a bit. Yastremska raced in and knifed a slice backhand angle winner that would have made the late, great Jana Novotna proud to deny it. A backhand swing volley swiped away a fourth break point as the game waged past 11 minutes. Yastremska continued to fight saving a sixth break point.

Pasting a forehand into net, Yastremska saved a seventh break point. After a near 15-and-a-half minute struggle, Yastremska double faulted deep to give Sabalenka the break and a 2-1 second-set lead.

The two-time Australian Open champion charged through a quick hold at 15 confirming the break for 3-1.

The deficit compelled the free-swinging Yastremska, who never met a ball she didn’t believe she could belt with total venom, to go for even more. The problem with that approach is first, Sabalenka can crush pace and second Yastremska hits so flat she simply could not hang in longer rallies. Sabalenka broke again for 4-1.

A free-flowing Sabalenka streaked though a love hold, exploiting Yastremska’s 16th unforced error of the set in stretching her lead to 5-1.

Blasting one final backhand winner down the line, Sabalenka closed with a bang.

Though the pair did not shake hands—as is customary when Ukrainians face Belarusians—Sabalenka stood and applauded as Yastremska made a fast exit.

"I love Rome. I love the city," Sabalenka said. "I feel, I don't know, so comfortable being here. I enjoy walking around. I enjoy good food, great restaurants. I enjoy the atmosphere on the stadium.

"I don't know. Every time I was losing here, I was so sad. I felt like I lost on the Grand Slam because it was one of the dream tournaments for me to win. It's still one of my dream tournament."

Sabalenka will face either Ukrainian Elina Svitolina or 23rd-seeded Anna Kalinskaya for a quarterfinal spot.

Earlier, Maria Sakkari continued her resurgence knocking out 2023 finalist Anhelina Kalinina 7-6(4), 6-0.


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