Sabalenka Survives Match Point Scare to Advance at Indian Wells

Sabalenka Survives Match Point Scare to Advance at Indian Wells

Aryna Sabalenka, the reigning Australian Open champion, faced a stern test in her opening match at the Indian Wells Masters, battling back from the brink of defeat to secure a thrilling 6-7 (2/7), 6-2, 7-6 (8/6) victory over American qualifier Payton Stearns.

Sabalenka, ranked second in the world, struggled from the outset against the 64th-ranked Stearns, who pushed the Belarusian to the limit in a match that ebbed and flowed throughout. The American outsider served for the upset at 5-4 in the third set, but Sabalenka broke back and saved four match points to force a tiebreaker.

In the tense tiebreaker, Sabalenka’s resilience shone through as she saved another match point with a blistering backhand winner. Stearns, feeling the pressure, tightened up, allowing Sabalenka to break back for 5-5. The American broke Sabalenka again, but couldn’t serve out the match, and Sabalenka ultimately prevailed in the tiebreaker.

The double Grand Slam winner advanced into the third round after a grueling three-hour battle, letting out a roar of triumph and relief. “This match will definitely go into the book of craziest matches and the best matches of my career,” she said.

Despite rolling her ankle during the intense match, Sabalenka expressed confidence in her fitness for her next match. “I was trying so hard to get to every ball and to put every ball back,” she said. “Now I feel OK, we’ll see tomorrow. But I have a great team, and I’m pretty sure they will take care of it so for the next match I will be ready.”

Sabalenka praised Stearns’ performance, acknowledging that she had to dig deep to overcome the American’s challenge. “I’m super happy that I didn’t give up on that score, and I was really pushing myself hard,” she said. “Even though I didn’t play my best tennis and she was crushing it like crazy, I was trying to stay in the game and keep fighting for every point.”

Sabalenka, who finished runner-up to Elena Rybakina in Indian Wells last year, will face 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu of Britain in the third round.