Sabalenka Wins Extraordinary Indian Wells Battle After Saving Four Match points

Sabalenka Wins Extraordinary Indian Wells Battle After Saving Four Match points

by Jordan Reynolds

Last updated

Aryna Sabalenka overcame Peyton Stearns in a final-set tiebreak to win one of the best matches of the 2024 season so far.

The world No. 2 started the season perfectly with her outstanding Australian Open success. Interestingly, Sabalenka recently revealed where she keeps her two Australian Open titles, having also won the title in Melbourne last year.

Her opening match in Indian Wells was just her second since the Australian Open. The other was a shock defeat to Donna Vekic in Dubai, with Sabalenka bemoaning her bad level in that match.

The Belarusian also played in the Eisenhower Cup, which is played in aid of charity before the Masters 1000 event begins. Sabalenka and Taylor Fritz were eliminated in round 1 of the Eisenhower Cup.

Despite this, the vast majority of the tennis world were expecting Sabalenka to overcome world No. 64 Peyton Stearns relatively comfortably in Indian Wells. However, what transpired was scarcely believable drama between the two players.

Stearns is a great athlete, and that caused Sabalenka problems in the first set, who was also not serving at her best. There were three consecutive breaks of serve, with two of these going to Stearns to leave her 4-2 up.

The American served for the set at 5-3, but Sabalenka then suddenly found her range. She hit several penetrating groundstrokes to break for a second time. Both players subsequently held serve to make a tiebreak necessary to decide the set.

Sabalenka's game then fell apart in a way that is incredibly rare for the world No. 2. She hit unforced errors on almost every point she lost in the tiebreak to lose it 7-2, and hand the set 7-6 to Stearns.

The Belarusian responded impressively, although the final score of the second set does not reflect how close it was. Sabalenka had to save break points in two separate service games, but she did that successfully.

By contrast, Stearns was not able to do that in the second set. An improved Sabalenka broke twice to win the set 6-2 and force a deciding set.

Both players held serve comfortably in the first five games of the third set, but the quality and drama then reached incredible levels. Stearns saved two break points in the sixth game with some clutch hitting when it mattered.

Sabalenka then piled on more pressure in the following service game, but Stearns held on again, including a scarcely believable forehand winner cross-court from deep in the court that left everyone in the stadium stunned.

Backed by a raucous crowd, Stearns broke Sabalenka to leave her serving for the match. She then went 40-0 up on serve. Three match points down, it seemed like it was all over for the Australian Open champion.

But the drama was not done. Sabalenka saved all three match points and then fended off a fourth with an audacious slice down the line. This was followed by a sensational backhand passing shot that saw Sabalenka level the score again at 5-5.

Some may have expected that to break Stearns' spirit, but that was not the case. Sabalenka saved four break points in the following game, but after a series of outstanding forehands from Stearns, Sabalenka dragged a backhand wide to leave Stearns 6-5 ahead.

But once again, Stearns could not serve it out. Sabalenka hit a delightful drop shot on her way to breaking yet again. This extraordinary battle was decided by a tiebreak.

Sabalenka began the tiebreak with a double fault. But she managed to put that behind her to hold three match points at 6-3 in the tiebreak. It was now Stearns who looked down and out.

But the American kept fighting. Sabalenka suddenly looked a little nervous, and Stearns levelled the score again at 6-6 after more big-hitting from the baseline.

Sabalenka then created a fourth match point, and finally, she got over the line. A backhand unforced error from Stearns meant Sabalenka claimed the tiebreak 8-6, and won this Indian Wells classic 6-7 6-2 7-6.


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