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Sabalenka dispatches 'best friend' Badosa at French Open

Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka (R) embraces Spain's Paula Badosa after winning at the end of their women's singles match on Court Philippe-Chatrier on day seven of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros Complex in <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/soccer/teams/paris/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Paris;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Paris</a> on June 1, 2024. (Bertrand GUAY)

Aryna Sabalenka overcame a sluggish start to defeat close friend Paula Badosa 7-5, 6-1 on Saturday to take her place in the last 16 of the French Open.

Former world number two Badosa led 5-3 in the first set but two-time Australian Open champion Sabalenka reeled off 10 of the final 11 games to sweep into the second week for the second year in a row.

"It's tough to play your best friend, but we know how to separate things," said Sabalenka, who shared a warm embrace with Badosa at the net.

"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."

Sabalenka, a semi-finalist in Paris in 2023, has made at least the last four at her past six Grand Slams and is expected to be Iga Swiatek's chief rival in the Pole's bid for a fourth French Open title.

She will meet American 14th seed Madison Keys or her compatriot Emma Navarro, the 22nd seed, for a place in the quarter-finals.

It's been a tough road for Badosa, 26, after sustaining a stress fracture in her back last year that doctors said would compromise her hopes of playing at the top level.

The Spaniard was told she might have to manage her pain using cortisone shots in order to stay competing and admitted recently she has had many low moments as she tries to come to terms with the medical advice she is being given.

But after sitting out three of four Grand Slams in 2023, with the exception of Wimbledon, she was able to look at the positives from her return to Roland Garros.

"I just remind myself that last year in this situation I was on the sofa, watching the tournament on TV. So being here, I'm grateful for that," said Badosa.

"Today I had the opportunity to play against one of the best players in the world in Philippe Chatrier. I think I have to be grateful for that after what I went through."

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