Sabalenka steps up the pressure

Australian Open champion reaches the Roland-Garros fourth round for the first time

Aryna Sabalenka, third round, Roland-Garros 2023© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Alex Sharp

In January, Aryna Sabalenka took her first major title at the Australian Open, adding to her semi-final showings at Wimbledon (2021) and US Open (2021-22).

Roland-Garros was the only Grand Slam where she hadn't reached the second week but that unwanted statistic is no more thanks to Sabalenka's clinical 6-2, 6-2 victory over Kamilla Rakhimova on Friday, which earned the world No.2 a place in the fourth round in Paris for the first time.

Story of the match  

World No.82 Rakhimova did well to hold back the power of the second seed until the sixth game.

However, two double faults put the underdog on the back foot and Sabalenka sensed her chance, ripping an inside-in forehand to stamp her authority on the contest for 4-2.

Stepping to the side, Sabalenka connected with a graceful up-high backhand volley to chalk up another break. A couple of blazing backhands later and Sabalenka was cruising, one set up.

Aryna Sabalenka, third round, Roland-Garros 2023© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

In the second set, the world No.2 demonstrated her world-leading skill-set with a crunching backhand winner and an inside-out forehand with incredible spin to fire 2-0 onto the scoreboard.

The 21-year-old Rakhimova was given no time to come up with a Plan B. She mixed in some drop shots, forced the second seed into a few errors from close quarters to the net, but Sabalenka escaped with an eight-minute hold for 5-2. There was no coming back for the world No. 82.


It was relentless, and it was another signal of intent from Sabalenka. It will now fall either to Yulia Putintseva or 2018 finalist Sloane Stephens to try to derail the supremely confident 25-year-old, who could finish the fortnight as world No.1, depending on the results of defending champion Iga Swiatek.

Key stats

With six aces, 73 per cent of first serves hitting the mark, and fending off break point at 4-2 in the second set with a second serve ace, Sabalenka instantly applied the pressure on her own delivery and only offered up one break opportunity all match.

Taking into account Sabalenka's Australian Open glory, the last woman to triumph in Melbourne and then Paris was Serena Williams back in 2015. Can the world No.2 be about to join such esteemed company?

Sabalenka has chalked up a tour-leading 32 wins in 2023, set against just five defeats during the same period.

What the winner said

Playing with confidence: "It feels amazing. With all the support, just to be on this Court [Philippe-Chatrier], to have an opportunity to try and show everyone your best, to enjoy this atmosphere, it's something very special."

First major after Melbourne: "I think every tournament is a different tournament, especially Roland-Garros is a completely different surface to Australian Open. 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."

On crossing the third-round barrier in Paris: "In the middle of the second set, I thought, 'I never get through this one', but then I was like, 'Okay, Aryna, this is not something you have to be focused on'.

"I put away these thoughts really quick in the match. Of course, this win gave me so much belief in myself here in Paris, so I know that on the next match I will go there and do everything I can to win another match."

Kamilla Rachimova, Arena Sabalenka, third round, Roland-Garros 2023© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT