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Stoic Sabalenka makes winning start to Miami Open

Sabalenka issued a brief statement on Wednesday, saying her heart was broken by the "unthinkable tragedy," but has otherwise remained out of the spotlight.

Stoic Sabalenka makes winning start to Miami Open

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LONDON: World number two Aryna Sabalenka made a stoic return to the court on Friday as she eased past Paula Badosa 6-4 6-3 to reach the third round of the Miami Open just days after the death of her former boyfriend Konstantin Koltsov. What was a long and difficult week for the 25-year-old Belarusian, who had received a first round bye, was made a little bit longer as heavy rains swept across South Florida. It delayed the start of play by just over six hours.

While not at her sharpest, the Australian Open champion made quick work of her Spanish opponent as dark clouds again threatened to halt action. "No, I wasn't surprised at all (by Sabalenka's play)", said Badosa. "She's a very, very strong woman, strong personality, you can see it on the court. I knew she was going to play very well and I told her I wish her the best and let's see if she can go very deep in this tournament."

Sabalenka issued a brief statement on Wednesday, saying her heart was broken by the "unthinkable tragedy," but has otherwise remained out of the spotlight. The statement also revealed that they had split up before the tragedy. The Miami-Dade police department confirmed on Tuesday that they had responded to a call the day before at a Miami resort about reports of a man jumping off a balcony. The police said no foul play was suspected.

Koltsov, 42, played for the Belarus national team at the 2002 and 2010 Olympics and spent parts of three seasons with the National Hockey League's Pittsburgh Penguins between 2003 and 2006. The news of Koltsov's death sent a shockwave through the Miami Open as Sabalenka's fellow players rallied around her, including her opponent Badosa.

"It wasn't very comfortable to play my best friend in this situation," Badosa said. "Honestly both of us are pretty strong mentally, we're strong women, I proved it, she proved it." When play finally began under gloomy skies, the two players, both dressed in black, stepped onto Grandstand court to a smattering of applause from the small crowd that waited out the rain.

Before warming up, Badosa and Sabalenka met at the net for the coin toss, the Belarusian breaking into a smile then trading fist bumps before getting to work. Sabalenka, wearing her familiar all-business look, was initially shaky as she served up three double faults in her opening two service games.

But the twice Australian Open champion had enough weapons in her arsenal to secure the only break of the first set, going ahead 4-3 on way to taking a 1-0 lead. Looking increasingly comfortable, Sabalenka secured a break at 2-1 in the second set and then broke her friend again to seal the victory. The two players then shared a warm embrace at the net.

Next up for the Belarusian is Ukraine's Anhelina Kalinina. Sabalenka and Badosa were among the handful matches to be completed before rain arrived halting play a second time.

On the men's side of the tournament, Czech Tomas Machac pulled off the surprise of the day by upsetting fifth seed Andrey Rublev 6-4 6-4, ending the Russian's run of 11 consecutive opening round wins. In other women's action, third seeded American Coco Gauff sped into the third round with 6-1 6-2 victory over Argentine qualifier Nadia Podoroska.

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