Aryna Sabalenka moves into fourth round after dominant victory

By Sports Desk January 19, 2024

Aryna Sabalenka handed Lesia Tsurenko the dreaded double bagel at the Australian Open – but the scoreline did not bother the Ukrainian.

The defending champion’s 6-0 6-0 victory means she has cruised through to the fourth round in Melbourne for the loss of only six games.

At the end of the match there was no handshake, as has been standard between Ukrainian players and those from Russia and Belarus since the start of the war nearly two years ago, although the pair did both put their hands up to acknowledge each other.

“I respect everyone’s position,” said Sabalenka, who was criticised at the French Open last year for standing at the net as if waiting for a handshake she knew was not going to come from Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina.

“She was quite respectful. She said, ‘Great play’. She didn’t shake my hand, but she was respectful to me, so I appreciate that.”

Asked why she maintains the position, Tsurenko said: “This is very tough to explain, you just have to feel what I feel and you will not have these questions for me.”

The 34-year-old quickly shrugged off the scoreline, and she said: “I feel like so many things that were so important for me are not important any more, like a tennis match.

“I don’t feel like I really care about how I finish the match, what is the score. I care more about the fact I can be here and I can remind the world that the war is still on, I care about the fact that I can earn some money and I can donate and I can help other people.”

Last year in Melbourne the tournament held a prominent fundraiser for Ukraine, but the war has slipped down the tennis agenda, as Tsurenko feels it has in society generally.

“People don’t want to talk about war, people don’t want to hear bad news,” she said. “I get a lot of bad messages on social media that people are kind of annoyed if I post something.

“It seems like the whole world is tired of hearing that but unfortunately it’s still going on, it’s a part of my life and part of other Ukrainians’ life and we have to talk about it, we have to remind people about Ukraine.”

Tsurenko, meanwhile, criticised players who took part in an exhibition event in St Petersburg in December.

While it was predominantly Russian players, France’s Adrian Mannarino and Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut also played in the event, which was sponsored by Russian energy giant Gazprom.

“In my opinion the players, especially from Europe, should not take part in propaganda of the tennis federation of the aggressor country and I think they should not take part in promotion of the biggest war sponsor,” said Tsurenko.

“This is what I’ve texted to people. You’re going to promote a company that is sponsoring a bombing of my country and of my closest relatives. I want them to feel a little bit for me and for other Ukrainians.

“Especially when that exhibition was on, there was heavy bombings and my sister was very stressed. It is very painful for me but people don’t understand.”

Sabalenka moves forward to a last-16 clash with American Amanda Anisimova, who is resurgent having missed the majority of last season for mental health reasons.

A chaotic Thursday saw Elena Rybakina, the player Sabalenka beat to win the title 12 months ago, and fifth seed Jessica Pegula lose, while Iga Swiatek survived a major scare against Danielle Collins.

Sabalenka has had no such worries, and she said: “Last year Iga won so many sets 6-0 and this is one of the goals, to get closer to her. I’m just really happy with the level.”

Fourth seed Coco Gauff has also been in impressive form and she eased to a 6-0 6-2 victory over fellow American Alycia Parks.

Anisimova, meanwhile, beat another player on the comeback trail in Spain’s Paula Badosa 7-5 6-4 despite battling stomach cramps.

“I’m really proud of myself,” said Anisimova, who first made the fourth round here five years ago as a 17-year-old.

“I wasn’t sure should I expect to do well because a lot of people were telling me, ‘Don’t put too much expectations on yourself’. I’m just really happy that I was able to get this far, but I still think that I can do more.”

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