PARIS: World number two Aryna Sabalenka stormed back to defeat close friend Paula Badosa and reach the French Open last 16 on Saturday as Novak Djokovic took aim at equalling Roger Federer’s record for Grand Slam match wins.

Two-time Australian Open champion Sabalenka downed Badosa 7-5, 6-1 by reeling off 10 of the last 11 games.

Badosa had served for the first set at 5-3 but was eventually over-powered by Sabalenka who is into the second week in Paris for the second year in a row.

Sabalenka, a semi-finalist in 2023, has made at least the last four at her past six Grand Slams and is expected to be Iga Swiatek’s chief rival in the Pole’s bid for a fourth French Open title.

“I just tried to play my best, play for every point. I knew I could come back,” said Sabalenka after her win under the roof of Court Philippe Chatrier as rain again brought disruption to the outside arenas.

Next up for the Belarusian is a clash against either Madison Keys or Emma Navarro for a spot in the quarter-finals.

With Sabalenka joining Swiatek, Coco Gauff and Elena Rybakina in the next round it is the first time in 11 years that all top four seeds have made the second week.

Rybakina moves into French Open last 16

Defending champion Djokovic, chasing a fourth title at Roland Garros and 25th career major, will go level with Federer on 369 Grand Slam match wins if he sees off Italian 30th seed Lorenzo Musetti.

Djokovic has defeated Musetti four times in five meetings.

However the Italian gave the Serb a major scare at the French Open in 2021 when he won the first two sets of their fourth round clash before retiring injured in the decider.

“There is always that kind of conviction and belief inside of me I can win a Slam. That’s the reason why I’m still competing at this level,” said the 37-year-old Djokovic.

Djokovic arrived in Paris under a cloud having not won a title or even reached a final in the season for the first time since 2018.

Adding injury to insult, he was accidentally hit on the head by a metal water bottle in Rome before suffering stomach problems in Geneva.

However, he hasn’t dropped a set in two matches and cracked an impressive 43 winners past Spain’s 63rd-ranked Roberto Carballes Baena on Thursday, dropping just seven games.

German fourth seed Alexander Zverev, who has made the semi-finals in each of the last three years, started this French Open by likely ending the Roland Garros career of 14-time champion Rafael Nadal.

Zverev shrugs off trial

On Saturday, he tackles Dutch 26th seed Tallon Griekspoor and has shown no indication of being distracted by the start in Berlin of a trial against him over allegations of assaulting an ex-girlfriend.

Casper Ruud, the runner-up to Nadal and then Djokovic in the last two seasons, needed five sets to see off Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the second round.

The seventh-seeded Norwegian faces Argentina’s Tomas Martin Etcheverry who made the third round when his French opponent Arthur Rinderknech retired with a foot injury caused by kicking out in frustration at an advertising hoarding.

Canada’s 21st seed Felix Auger-Aliassime booked a last 16 clash against Carlos Alcaraz after sweeping past 15th-ranked Ben Shelton of the United States 6-4, 6-2, 6-1.

Auger-Aliassime reached the fourth round in Paris in 2022 when he lost in five sets to Rafael Nadal.

The 23-year-old holds a 3-2 career lead over world number three Alcaraz although the two have never met on clay.

World number four and former Wimbledon champion Rybakina, a quarter-finalist in Paris in 2021, eased past Elise Mertens 6-4, 6-2.

Russian-born Varvara Gracheva of France, ranked 88 in the world, reached the last 16 of a Slam for the first time by seeing off Irina-Camelia Begu 7-5, 6-3.

Mirra Andreeva, just 17 and ranked 38, will face Peyton Stearns of the United States as she attempts to make the last 16 of a Slam for the third time.


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