Aryna Sabalenka made a statement of her intention at the Australian Open, beating Belinda Bencic to reach the quarter-finals.
The Belarusian started the season by winning a title in Adelaide and is yet to lose a set in 2023 as she aims to win her first Grand Slam title.
Sabalenka has been knocking on doors for several years, reaching the semi-final back-to-back at the US Open and the last four at Wimbledon in 2021, but has yet to reach the final.
Last year, she started the season struggling to land on the court, but it all seems to have come together and Sabalenka was outstanding in a 7-5, 6-2 victory over the seed with 12.18 unforced errors.
Consulting a biomechanics expert proved key to solving her serving issues, and Sabalenka now sees it as a blessing in disguise.
“I’m very happy that this happened to me with my serve,” she said.
“Before, I wouldn’t have been open to it. I would say, “You know what, my service is fine, I don’t want to change anything.” In fact, even when my service was working, it wasn’t right.
“I was open to everything at that moment. I thought, “Please, someone help me fix this fucking service.” Sorry to swear, but it was.”
“I want to believe that the way I’m working now, the way I’m on the court right now, is a new beginning and a new step. So I really want to believe that it will really help me.”
Conditions at Melbourne Park this year clearly favor strong players and Sabalenka will be a big favorite to advance to the finals from the bottom half, especially after fourth seed Caroline Garcia comes out in another upset.
The next fifth seed Sabalenka will face unseeded Croatian Donna Vekic, who finished 17-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova’s run with a 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 victory.
Vekic was also a former teen prodigy and made her debut here a decade ago, but this is only her second Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Former world number one Karolina Pliskova slipped through the draw virtually unnoticed, reaching the last eight after a 6-0, 6-4 victory over Zhang Shuai.
The Czech missed her first grand slam since the 2012 US Open here last year due to a hand injury.
Pliskova said: “Of course it’s amazing to be here because last year I was very, very sad to miss this part of the season in particular.
“It took me a while because I also started almost still with pain. I’ve been feeling like I’ve been finding my game lately. Now I keep playing the way I used to play American swing. I’m happy to be in the quarterfinals again after my second slam in a row.
Garcia ended last season by winning the biggest title of her career at the WTA Finals and came to Melbourne as one of the favorites but suffered a shock defeat to 45th ranked Linette.
The Polish woman, who unexpectedly went further than her compatriots Iga Świątek and Hubert Hurkacz, won 7:6(3), 6:4 and advanced to the first grand slam quarterfinal in her career.