MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka blocked out the political overtones of her third-round match against Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko at the Australian Open on Friday to ease into the second week of the Grand Slam with an easy 6-0 6-0 victory.
Sabalenka was last scheduled to face the Ukrainian at Indian Wells last year but Tsurenko withdrew after suffering a panic attack when talking with officials about tennis’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for which Belarus was used as a staging ground.
Reigning champion and second seed Sabalenka is playing at Melbourne Park without official national affiliation under conditions imposed on Russian and Belarusian players by tournament organisers since the invasion.
The match itself was a one-sided affair played out in a muted atmosphere on Rod Laver Arena as Sabalenka ruthlessly handed 28th seed Tsurenko the dreaded “double bagel” in 52 minutes.
There was no traditional handshake over the net at the end of the match with the players merely acknowledging each other with a wave before heading off court.
“I’m just super happy that Lesia, she’s healthy back in the top,” Sabalenka said of her 34-year-old opponent.
Sabalenka lost only one set on her run to her first Grand Slam title last year at Melbourne Park and has continued in the same vein this season with only six games conceded in three matches so far.
The 25-year-old said that was no accident as she tried to match the ruthlessness of world number one Iga Swiatek.
“Last year Iga won so many sets 6-0 and one of my goals is trying to get closer to her,” Sabalenka said.
“I’m super happy with the level I’m playing so far and I’m just hoping I can just keep going like that, or even better.”
She might find the 6-0 scores harder to come by in the fourth round against Amanda Anisimova, who earlier beat former world number two Paula Badosa 7-5 6-4.
The American is ranked 442nd in the world after taking a long break from the game but has looked in fine form in the first three rounds this week.
“She’s a super player and I’m really happy to see her back and I’m looking forward to a tough match,” said Sabalenka.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Michael Perry)