Australia’s No.2 Ajla Tomljanovic found Belarus’s Aryna Sabalenka too tough a hurdle as she tumbled out of the Abu Dhabi Open with a 7-5 6-4 defeat.
Sabalenka kept her impressive winning streak going on Friday as she battled past the Croatian-born Aussie in an hour and 40 minutes.
It was world No.10 Sabalenka’s 11th straight win on the WTA circuit, with her two victories in Abu Dhabi following up her superb end to 2020 when she won back-to-back titles in Ostrava and Linz.
The 22-year-old looks as if she could be a serious force at the Australian Open in this sort of form, even though Tomljanovic did provide a test.
Tomljanovic had come into the match with some hope after winning their most recent match in straight sets at the 2019 Miami Open but fourth seed Sabalenka always seemed in command as she set up a round-of-16 clash with Tunisian Ons Jabeur.
Sabalenka had powered into a 4-0 lead after Tomljanovic double faulted to gift the second break but the Australian found her range to fight back to 5-5 before the 22-year-old Belarusian found another gear to break decisively.
Tomljanovic claimed a service break at the start of the second set which Sabalenka quickly clawed back.
Though the set was littered with seven breaks of serve, the Belarusian took her chance decisively at 5-4 up, hammering a forehand winner down the line to seal her seventh break of the match and the win.
Earlier, Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin progressed in infortunate circumstances when her Belgian opponent Kirsten Flipkens injured her ankle when landing on an advertising board and had to retire.
Flipkens won the first set 7-5 and was trailing 5-4 to the American in the second when she jumped to play a shot and landed on the advertising board behind the baseline, with her left ankle twisting underneath her.
“I obviously got a little bit upset, quite emotional. We’re good friends and that’s not something you like to see. I just hope she has a speedy recovery and gets ready for Australia,” Kenin said. “This is not the way I wanted to win.”
Kenin said she had wanted to cross to Flipkens’ side of the court to help her, but couldn’t because of social distancing rules limiting contact between players during the coronavirus pandemic.