Aryna Sabalenka advances to 4th round in Australia

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

Play was underway when government officials announced that fans will be banned from attending the tournament for five days beginning Saturday because of a COVID-19 outbreak at a hotel. The Grand Slam tournament had been the first in a year to allow sizeable crowds.

The No. 7-seeded Sabalenka had already beat American Ann Li 6-3, 6-1 in front of a small morning crowd in Rod Laver Arena.

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 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 third-round play, No. 14-seeded Garbine Muguruza defeated Zarina Diyas 6-1, 6-1. No. 19 Marketa Vondrousova beat Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-4.