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Sabalenka powers past 'best friend' Badosa in Paris

Aryna Sabalenka hugs Paula Badosa after their French Open match
Both of Aryna Sabalenka's Grand Slam singles titles have come on the Australian Open hard courts [Getty Images]

Aryna Sabalenka continued her quest for a first French Open title by fighting past best friend Paula Badosa to reach the fourth round.

Belarusian Sabalenka, who reached the semi-finals last year, won 7-5 6-1 against the Spanish former world number two.

A competitive and entertaining first set, in which both players demonstrated their power from the baseline, saw seven breaks of serve before second seed Sabalenka closed it out.

The second set was one-sided as 139th-ranked Badosa's level dropped.

Badosa, who has fallen down the rankings after a stress fracture in her back, saved three match points before putting a backhand long on the fourth.

"I just tried to play my best and fight for every point. I know the conditions were tough and the serve wasn't an advantage," said 26-year-old Sabalenka, who won 10 of the final 11 games.

Two-time major champion Sabalenka will play American 22nd seed Emma Navarro next.

Rain once again held up play on the outside courts in Paris on Saturday, but Sabalenka and fourth seed Elena Rybakina advanced under the roof on Court Philippe Chatrier.

There was a surprise exit, however, for Australian Open finalist Zheng Qinwen, who lost to world number 70 Elina Avanesyan.

After losing in Miami and retiring injured in Stuttgart, Badosa hoped it would be a case of third time lucky against her friend in their latest meeting this season.

The 26-year-old Spaniard, who beat British number one Katie Boulter in the first round, soaked up Sabalenka's power and used her opponent's pace to fizz away winners in a competitive opening set.

It was a risk-reward strategy and when Badosa's errors started outnumbering the winners, Sabalenka grabbed momentum.

Putting a drive volley into the net for 0-30 at 5-5 proved a costly mistake for Badosa as she lost serve for a fourth time, and a hold to love from Sabalenka clinched the opening set.

Sabalenka's rhythm improved further in the second set as she hit the lines with power and precision.

Badosa could not cope but will ultimately reflect positively on her performances at Roland Garros considering her injury issues.

"It's tough to play your best friend, but we know how to separate things," said Sabalenka, who hugged Badosa warmly at the net.

"She's an incredible player coming back after injury. She'll be back at the top very soon."

Commanding Rybakina through to fourth round

Elena Rybakina hits a backhand
Elena Rybakina was beaten in the 2023 Australian Open final [Getty Images]

Former Wimbledon champion Rybakina reached the fourth round for the second time with a commanding win over Elise Mertens.

The world number four needed just 67 minutes to beat the 25th seed from Belgium 6-4 6-2.

Rybakina, 24, reached the quarter-finals in Paris in 2021 but withdrew with injury before her third-round match last year.

The in-form Kazakh will face Elina Svitolina after last year's Wimbledon semi-finalist defeated Romania's Ana Bogdan 7-5 6-2.

Earlier, home hope Varvara Gracheva overcame Romania's Irina-Camelia Begu 7-5 6-3 to reach the fourth round of a major for the first time.

The Russia-born player, ranked 88th in the world, was serenaded by the crowd on Court Suzanne Lenglen with a loud rendition of the national anthem, La Marseillaise.

"I will remember this moment until the end of my life," Gracheva, who has represented France since 2023 after living in the country for more than six years, said.

"It means that everyone accepts me, that I'm home here."

She will face Russian teenager Mirra Andreeva after her convincing 6-2 6-1 win over American Peyton Stearns.

Meanwhile, Chinese seventh seed Zheng could not close out a remarkable post-rain delay comeback against Russia's Avanesyan.

Zheng was a break down in the third set when play resumed on Saturday afternoon and she conceded serve again before fighting back from 5-2 down to force a tie-break.

But Avanesyan took control late in the breaker, winning four points in a row to secure her spot in the fourth round for a second straight year in Paris.

She will take on 12th seed Jasmine Paolini in round four, after the Italian beat former US Open winner Bianca Andreescu 6-1 3-6 6-0.