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Serena Williams Battles Past Aryna Sabalenka in Australian Open Fourth Round

Serena Williams has been on the quest for an elusive 24th Grand Slam title for a few years now. She won her 23rd at the Australian Open four years ago, defeating older sister Venus while pregnant with her daughter. Since coming back from her pregnancy, though, the all-time great has not been able to get over the final hurdle–matching Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Major titles.

The American great has reached four finals since then–twice at Wimbledon, twice at the US Open–but has never been able to win that match, losing to Angelique Kerber, Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep, and Bianca Andreescu.

The match against Aryna Sabalenka at the Australian Open on Sunday, though, was a weird experience for Serena. She entered the match as an underdog. This was unsurprising, actually, given Serena’s struggles in the previous round and Sabalenka’s strong form.

Of course, beating an all-time great is a lot more difficult than being favored, especially in a Major. After all, Sabalenka has never even reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal. Winning this match would be the biggest achievement of Sabalenka’s short career–in more ways than one. Serena was never going to make it easy.

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Serena Williams vs Aryna Sabalenka

Whatever was ailing Serena in her third-round match did not appear to hinder her at the start of this one. Against Potapova, Serena seemed to have extremely limited movement. She seemed slower than usual. Well, in this match, Serena’s movement was stellar. The 23-time Grand Slam champion was moving around the court as well as she ever has. Facing one of the few players on tour that can outhit her, Serena played defense like a much younger player. Behind a great ground game and strong and timely serves, Serena held serve five times–only facing break points at 3-3–and took advantage of a nervous game by Sabalenka to break and take the first set 6-4.

Though she is still young and sometimes prone to mental absences, Sabalenka didn’t fold. The 22-year-old Belorussian didn’t fold in the slightest. She responded by breaking Serena to open the second set, earned a second break as Serena’s first serve disappeared, and got through some extra nerves of her own a few games later to take the set 6-2.

Third set

Serena’s first serve, which was absent for the bulk of the second set, returned with a vengeance. The American held her first two service games to love, while Sabalenka seemed beset by nerves. Her first serve percentage dropped precipitously, and she started hitting unforced errors on basic groundstrokes. After a gutty hold at 0*-1, she faced two break points at 1*-2. She saved one, but hit another unforced error–her fourth of the game–to give away the break and the lead to the all-time great.

Getting broken seemed to be exactly what Sabalenka needed, for a time. She took control of the rallies in Serena’s next service game, and though Serena held she had set the new terms for the match. After a strong hold, Sabalenka broke back then held to love to equal the set at 4-4. After a Serena hold, though, Sabalenka played another poor game, to give away the break and the match, 4-6 6-2 4-6.

What Next?

We should expect plenty of achievements from Sabalenka in the future. She is one of the most powerful hitters in the women’s game. And while that alone can’t stay at the top of the game forever, it can definitely win a few big tournaments, including Majors. And with the all-court talent and mental fortitude that Sabalenka showed in this match, we can expect for her to be more than just a big-hitting baseliner.

Serena’s quest for Slam #24 continues on for another round. In this super-stacked half of the draw, though, it will be difficult to even reach the final. Serena must next face the winner of the upcoming match between Simona Halep and Iga Swiatek. That quarterfinal match will be played on Tuesday in Melbourne, and will likely get prime billing during the night session.

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images


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