Aryna Sabalenka blasted top seed Zhang Shuai out of the Hobart International. Big-hitting Belarusian had felled former world number five Eugenie Bouchard in the first round and her aggressive strategy paid dividends again as she triumphed 7-6(3) 6-4.
Before completing her 15th main draw win and seal the second consecutive quarterfinal of the season, Sabalenka missed seven set points as she squandered a 5-2 lead in the first set and three match points in the second. “It was a really good fight between us,” Sabalenka told reporters after firing 37 winners and committing 39 unforced errors.
“This was a match that I really enjoyed. She fights for every point, and it’s always so special when you feel this fight on court.” Her first-strike tennis broke Zhang's ability to counter-attack, particularly off the backhand side.
The second set followed a more predictable pattern with both players holding comfortably until Zhang lost her serve to 4-3. Sabalenka serve out to set up a quarter-final clash with fifth seed Lesia Tsurenko in their first ever clash.
“It’s always special when you beat two good players in a row in the same tournament,” Sabalenka said. “It gives me more confidence. You finish the match and you really just think, ‘When is the next one? I want to go back on court, I want to beat someone.'” Briton Watson had little difficulty in beating Australian Fourlis.
The 2015 champion came back to the quarterfinals in Hobart for the third time after an easy 6-2 6-2 win in 69 minutes. “I felt the match today was a lot tougher than the score suggested,” said Watson who lost only 13 points on serve throughout the match.
In her 13th WTA quarterfinal, Watson will play Donna Vekic for the third time in her career: they're tied 1-1 in the previous meetings as the Croat won in Charleston in 2015 and the Brit avenged that loss last year in a Fed Cup clash.
Monica Niculescu completed her 13th win over a lefty opponent in a WTA main draw match as she beat 6-4 6-2 Varvara Lepchenko to set-up a quarterfinal showdown with Elise Mertens, a rematch of last year’s Hobart International final.
“I love this Centre Court, I feel like I’m at home,” said Niculescu, playing her fourth quarter-final here in nine main draw appearances. “Usually I don’t look at the draw,” she said. “We played a great final last year.
She is tough, I think I just took three games off her. But now I’m going to relax and enjoy this victory and I look forward to the match tomorrow.” Alison Riske also advanced after Belgian qualifier Kirsten Flipkens pulled out with a right shoulder injury.