The Belarusian has enjoyed sensational form over the past few weeks. She managed to beat Iga Swiatek in the 2023 Madrid Open final, and soon after that talks and questions about challenging the World No. 1 spot started to appear.
However, Sabalenka wasn't really keen on adding fuel into the fire and kept the expectations low ahead of the 2023 Italian Open in Rome, where she reached semifinals last year, defending 350 points.
However, her main rival Swiatek is defending 900 points for the triumph and so odds were on the world no. 2's side. During the press conference, Sabalenka was even compared to Serena Williams but she had to deal with another American at Foro Italico, Sofia Kenin.
The World No. 134 knows how it feels to win a Grand Slam when she became the Australian Open champion in 2020, and now, she's trying to fight her way back up. However, her form hasn't been really good recently, as she lost in just 58 minutes in Madrid.
But Kenin was looking to bounce back and a challenge against the second seed was a great chance to do that. The American started with a break in the first set and even though she lost the one-break advantage in the eighth game, it was enough to take the opening set into a tie-break.
The World No. 134 dominated the tie-break after winning the first four points and having a 6-1 lead. Although Sabalenka managed to recover one mini-break, she never recovered fully in the tie-break, losing it 4-7.
And even though the Belarusian wanted to start a comeback in the second set, Kenin denied her that chance. She kept her level high and after two more breaks, the American won the match 7-6(4), 6-2 to advance into the third round of the 2023 Italian Open in Rome.
She will want to use this win to fuel her future progress on the WTA Tour, as she'll take on the 30th-seeded Anhelina Kalinina from Ukraine in the next round of the competition.