Aryna Sabalenka jokes with Novak Djokovic: 'I finished early to help you'

Aryna Sabalenka and Novak Djokovic hit Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday night

by Jovica Ilic
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Aryna Sabalenka jokes with Novak Djokovic: 'I finished early to help you'
© Daniel Pockett / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

The defending Australian Open champions, Aryna Sabalenka and Novak Djokovic competed at Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday night. Aryna stepped on the court first and scored a dominant 6-3, 6-2 triumph over 16-year-old Brenda Fruhvirtova.

Sabalenka sealed the deal in 67 minutes, allowing Djokovic to start his match at a reasonable time and avoid staying on the court until late hours. Novak wrapped up his duties a few minutes before midnight, ousting Alexei Popyrin 6-3, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 after a massive battle, moving into the third round.

The match could have been completed on Thursday. The Serb defended four set points in the third set and sealed the deal with a fine performance in the fourth, preserving energy after not feeling at his best physically. Sabalenka left a teenager far behind with a reliable performance on serve and return.

They both struggled to find the first serve, and the Belarusian drew more from that scenario. Aryna dropped five points behind the first serve, facing only two break points and getting broken once. Brenda could not match that pace, giving away 44% of the points behind the initial shot and suffering four breaks from six chances offered to world no.

2. Sabalenka used her powerful game to impose her strokes, landing 30 winners and 22 unforced errors while restricting a teenager to below ten direct points. Sabalenka dominated the shortest and mid-range exchanges, attacking and keeping everything on her racquet.

Fruhvritova lost serve in the encounter's second game and pulled the break back at love a few minutes later, never again troubling the better-ranked player on the return by the end of the match. They served well in the next four games, with the young gun staying in touch before losing serve in game eight, pushing Sabalenka 5-3 in front.

Aryna wrapped up the set on her serve in game nine, moving in front and gaining a boost.

Aryna Sabalenka & Brenda Fruhvirtova, Australian Open 2024© Daniel Pockett / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

The defending champion had the upper hand in the second set, producing one good hold after another and keeping a teenager under pressure.

Brenda lost the ground early on, getting broken in games one and three and moving closer to the exit door. Sabalenka produced fine holds in games six and eight, ousting a qualifier and moving into the third round. Novak Djokovic had to battle hard at Rod Laver Arena for the second straight match.

The Serb grabbed his 30th consecutive Australian Open victory, toppling the Aussie after three hours and 11 minutes. Struggling with the minor virus and a heckler in the stands, Novak battled on several fronts, enduring all the battles and securing a place in the next round.

Popyrin played well in front of the home fans, missing an enormous chance to build two sets to one advantage and falling after a great effort. The Aussie fired 17 aces, but his first serve could not match the Serb's, with Novak losing only 13 points after landing it in.

Djokovic tamed his strokes more efficiently, collecting the same number of winners and errors and welcoming 58 unforced errors from his opponent, often in pivotal moments. Novak lost serve two times from seven chances offered to Alexei, fending off those crucial four at 4-5 in the third set.

The Aussie got broken three times, leaving everything on the court but failing to force a decider. Djokovic made a convincing start, serving well in the opener and challenging his opponent. Popyrin faced issues in three straight service games, surviving until game eight when Djokovic clinched a break with a running forehand crosscourt winner at the net.

Novak painted a backhand down the line winner at 5-3, wrapping up the set in 39 minutes and gaining confidence. Alexei stepped in and served better in the second set, delivering four commanding holds and pressuring Novak.

Aryna Sabalenka joked with Novak Djokovic following her Australian Open win.

The home favorite broke the defending champion at 15 in the fourth game thanks to a volley winner at the net, moving in front and firing an ace in the next one for a hold at love and 4-1.

Popyrin repeated that in the seventh game, controlling the scoreboard and forging a 5-2 advantage. Alexei served for the set at 5-3 and felt the nerves, netting a forehand and offering Novak three break points. Popyrin missed a routine forehand on the third, failing to serve out for the set and keeping Djokovic in contention.

The Serb could not take advantage of that, with the Aussie delivering another break in game ten with a lob winner, clinching the set 6-4 and leveling the overall score after an hour and 19 minutes. The returners had no chances in the opening nine games of the third set, and Djokovic served to prolong it at 4-5.

The defending champion offered his rival four set points that could have pushed him away from the finish line.

Novak Djokovic, Australian Open 2024© Darrian Traynor / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

However, the veteran used his experience and denied them, two with winners and two after Alexei's careless strokes that would cost him dearly.

They arranged a tie break, and Novak fired a forehand down the line winner for 4-2 and a boost. Djokovic landed an ace for 5-2 before Popyrin climbed back to 4-5 with a forehand down the line winner. The Aussie missed a backhand in the tenth point, and the Serb seized the first set point after a forced error, opening two sets to one advantage after two hours and 33 minutes.

They served well at the beginning of the fourth set, and Djokovic moved 3-2 in front after Popyrin's wild forehand. Novak found his A-game on the return in the sixth game, breaking Alexei at love and forging a 4-2 advantage.

Djokovic fired a service winner in game seven for 5-2 and earned three match points on the return in the next one. Popyrin erased them in style with three winners, firing two more and making an impressive hold for 4-5. Novak left those chances behind and held at 15 in game ten after Alexei's forehand error, moving over the top and showing emotions after another topsy-turvy performance.

"I have to ask Novak for advice on how to win the Australian Open nine more times. If he gives me any, I will tell you later. I'm much nicer to him. I completed my match quickly tonight, allowing him to finish his without staying on the court until late hours," Aryna Sabalenka said.

Aryna Sabalenka Novak Djokovic Rod Laver Arena
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