Sabalenka brushes aside Badosa, Rybakina through to French Open fourth round

Belarusian world No 2 beats close friend 7-5, 6-1 while Kazak powers past Elise Mertens of Belgium

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World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka eased past best friend Paula Badosa to move into the fourth round of the French Open on Saturday.

Two-time Grand Slam winner Sabalenka powered past her pal 7-5, 6-1 and will face either American world No 12 Madison Keys or her compatriot Emma Navarro in the next round.

In the other big third-round match of the women's draw, world No 4 Elena Rybakina defeated Belgium's Elise Mertens 6-4, 6-2 and will next face either Ukraine's 19th-ranked Elina Svitolina or 64th-ranked Romanian Ana Bogdan.

Sabalenka, who successfully defended her Australian Open title this year, and Spaniard Badosa have been close friends since 2021 but their bond was set aside as the Belarusian seeks to win her first French Open crown. She reached the semi-finals last year.

In a competitive first set, Badosa forced an early break to go 5-3 up but that seemed to spur Sabalenka into action and the big-hitting 26-year-old broke back before later recovering another loss of serve.

She then hit a huge forehand to go up 6-5 and came up with a delightful backhand slice from the deep on her way to closing out the set, as Badosa was left to rue some missed opportunities.

The former world No 2, who has struggled with a back issue in recent years, got off to a bad start in the next set as her opponent rattled off four games in a row.

Sabalenka produced a superb drop to set up match point and the knockout blow came in the form of an unforced error from Badosa but was immediately followed by a warm hug at the net.

"I just tried to play my best and fight for every point. I know the conditions were tough and the serve wasn't an advantage," said Sabalenka, who won 10 of the final 11 games.

"It's tough to play your best friend, but we know how to separate things.

"She's an incredible player coming back after injury. She'll be back at the top very soon."

Rybakina, a former Wimbledon champion, is looking to improve on her best performance of quarter-finalist in Paris in 2021.

The Russian-born Kazakh lost her serve twice in the first set but maintained the upper hand by breaking all of the Belgian's remaining serves in the set.

Strong shots and better serving in the second set allowed the 24-year-old Rybakina to end the match in little over an hour.

"In the second set I was playing with a bit more confidence and my serve improved," Rybakina said.

The two women had met five times previously, with the Kazakh leading by four wins to one.

Updated: June 01, 2024, 2:16 PM