World No.2 Aryna Sabalenka has narrowly avoided an Australian Open disaster, coming back from a set down to beat local wildcard Storm Sanders 5-7 6-3 6-2.
Sabalenka had suffered back-to-back losses in her opening matches in this month’s two editions of the Adelaide International and, when a set down and trailing 3-1 in the second, looked set to depart Australia without winning a match.
But the 2021 Wimbledon and US Open semi-finalist dug deep and reeled off nine consecutive games – and 11 of the next 13 – to claim a comeback victory.
“I was already in my locker room (mentally) actually,” Sabalenka said.
“Maybe that was the key because I stopped thinking too much and I just started playing tennis.”
Sanders, fresh off an Adelaide International doubles title with compatriot Ash Barty, flew out of the blocks, breaking Sabalenka twice to take a 4-1 lead in the opening set.
Sabalenka settled, winning four of the next five games to get back on level footing at 5-5, but double-faulted on the third of three break points to give Sanders the ascendancy.
The 27-year-old Queenslander coolly held serve to land the opening set.
Sanders appeared on the verge of causing a stunning boilover when she broke Sabalenka and took a 3-1 lead in the second set.
But a fiery Sabalenka, who wore her heart on her sleeve throughout, dug deep and reeled off the next five games to claim the set.
From there, a ruthless Sabalenka dominated the third set, quickly taking a 4-0 lead, then dropping just two games before ripping two aces in her final service game to claim victory.
Sabalenka will play China’s Wang Xinyu, who beat American Ann Li 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 earlier on Tuesday, in the second round.