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Tomljanovic faces severe Sabalenka test

Ajla Tomljanovic is set to gain a proper early measure of her readiness to make a splash at the Australian Open when she tackles Aryna Sabalenka, a player on a really hot streak on the WTA tour, in the Abu Dhabi Open.

Aryna Sabalenka, of Belarus, won her 10th consecutive match to set up a second round meeting with Australia’s No.2 Tomljanovic, who has a busy Friday in prospect as she’s in action in both the singles and doubles.

Sabalenka, one of the game’s rising stars who’s currently ranked No.10 in the world, overcame a slow start to her first match of 2021 on Thursday to defeat Slovenia’s Polona Hercog 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 in the first round.

The 22-year-old stormed from 2-5 and two set points down to take control of the opening set, looking every inch a player who was still adjusting to outdoor conditions after practising indoors over the holiday period.

“I didn’t have my serve and I didn’t have my forehand and backhand. But I had my character and I was just trying to use it as much as I can,” Sabalenka told reporters.

“When the score was 2-5, 15-40, I just said to myself, oh I don’t care about this set, I just need to find the rhythm.

“Somehow, I won that game and was thinking OK, maybe I have a chance to still win this set. Keep playing, keep moving.”

Battling on to win the set in 72 minutes, Sabalenka didn’t look back, racing to a 4-0 lead in the second before closing out her win in an hour and 49 minutes.

“Keep fighting for every point. I think that’s why I won today,” she said, looking forward to taking on Tomljanovic for the fourth time.

She has a 2-1 career lead over the Australian but Tomljanovic, who beat China’s Zhu Lin in her opening round match, won their last encounter on a hard court in Miami in 2019.

After her singles battle, Tomljanovic will join forces with Australian Open singles champion Sofia Kenin as they launch their doubles partnership against Greek Maria Sakkari and Croatian Donna Vekic.

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