Defending champ Sabalenka survives scare

WORLD number two Aryna Sabalenka has survived a massive scare from Poland’s Magda Linette, needing three sets and two hours and nine minutes to shake off the determined world number 48. The Belarusian was gunning for a record-equalling third title in Madrid, but admitted her form was not up to scratch compared to her rivals, Iga Swiatek and Elena Rybakina.

“I feel like I kind of dropped my level a little bit with this Big Three,” Sabalenka said coming into the tournament. “I feel like it’s the Big Two last month.”

Since winning the Australian Open in January, the world number two has struggled, winning back-to-back matches just once and is set to surrender second spot in the world to Coco Gauff if she does not reach the final.

Against Linette, Sabalenka looked on top in the opening set, winning a whopping 79 per cent of her first serve points, and saving both break point opportunities, while capitalising once off her Polish’s opponent’s serve to take it 6-4.

Linette, an accomplished clay courter was not going to just let the match slip away though, taking the second set 6-3. In that set, the world number 48 won 21 of 28 off her serve, and only faced once break point – which she saved – while breaking Sabalenka once and winning 64 per cent of her second serve return points.

The players went toe-for-toe in the deciding set with seven consecutive holds in what had been a strong serving contest. However in the eighth game, just as it looked like that would continue, Sabalenka found the winner she needed and broke off a fortunate net cord winer, before holding and winning the match in just over two hours, 6-4 3-6 6-3.

Sabalenka said though she was not quite winning in the same style as her big rivals, she said it was not a confidence thing, but rather getting back to basics and working through form issues.

“It’s not about being confident,” Sabalenka said. “It’s about how much you’re ready to do to get it. It’s about the hard work and to be ready, be ready for the big fights. I feel like confidence is not going to help you in those big matches. It’s about staying there and fighting for it.

“I will say, I will be there, I will be fighting for every point and if I have an opportunity, I will take it. That’s my mentality going into the clay season this year.”

The world number two will take on American wildcard Robin Montgomery who came from behind to stun in-form Brit Katie Boulter, 1-6 6-3 6-4 in two hours and two minutes to reach the third round. In other results, Rybakina cruised through to the third round of the tournament with a 6-4 6-3 victory, while Qinwen Zheng was forced to retired hurt early in the second set with Rybakina’s Kazakh compatriot Yulia Putintseva reaching the Round of 32.

Egyptian Mayar Sherif caused the biggest upset of the day takin out Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk in straight sets, 6-2 7-5, while Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova crushed Australian lucky loser Daria Saville 6-1 6-4, and Jasmine Paolini only dropped one game in a 6-0 6-1, 59-minute rout of young Andorran Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva.

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