Belarusian Sabalenka advances to 4th round in Australia


Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus makes a forehand return to United States' Ann Li during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus makes a forehand return to United States' Ann Li during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)


Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus makes a backhand return to United States' Ann Li during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)


United States' Ann Li makes a backhand return to Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)


MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Aryna Sabalenka matched her best Grand Slam showing by advancing to a possible fourth-round showdown against Serena Williams at the Australian Open.

Sabalenka beat American Ann Li 6-3, 6-1 Friday.

Play began Friday as the Victoria state government was contemplating lockdown measures in Melbourne because of new COVID-19 cases. It was not immediately clear how that might affect spectator attendance at Melbourne Park.

Seeded No. 7, Sabalenka is the only woman among the top 16 seeds who has yet to reach a major quarterfinal. Her best effort previously came when she earned a fourth-round berth at the 2018 U.S. Open.

“I really want to play well in the Grand Slams, go as far as I can,” Sabalenka said. “I’m trying to come out in the big stadiums and show my best.”

The Belarusian did that in Rod Laver Arena by overpowering Li from the start, winning her first two service games at love and then breaking at love. Sabalenka held every serve and pounded 15 forehand winners.

Sabalenka, 22, has won 23 of her past 26 matches. She could next face Williams, who was scheduled to continue her quest for a 24th major title by facing Anastasia Potapova in the third round.

“I’ll prepare myself as good as I can,” Sabalenka said.

Later matches on the men’s side included eight-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic against American Taylor Fritz.

In other morning third-round play, No. 19-seeded Marketa Vondrousova beat Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-4.

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Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus makes a forehand return to United States’ Ann Li during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2021/02/web1_126213685-7d22106fb3dc42bea0cc70d06c406ccf.jpgAryna Sabalenka of Belarus makes a forehand return to United States’ Ann Li during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus makes a backhand return to United States’ Ann Li during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2021/02/web1_126213685-9c3566c4b0ce498d9f036d6d270b795f.jpgAryna Sabalenka of Belarus makes a backhand return to United States’ Ann Li during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

United States’ Ann Li makes a backhand return to Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2021/02/web1_126213685-3f64e2a38c1041a49337f2645a24d673.jpgUnited States’ Ann Li makes a backhand return to Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)