Dubai: In modern day tennis it is difficult to replicate the success of Steffi Graf or Serena Williams as there is very little margins separate the top 100 players, but Aryna Sabalenka wants to dominate like the greats and showed her credentials with a pulsating win over defending champion Jelena Ostapenko in a fast-paced encounter at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Wednesday.
The Belarusian was shellshocked by the powerful groundstrokes of Ostapenko in the first set, which she lost 6-2. But the Australian Open champion counterattacked fiercely and it was the turn of Ostepenko to feel the heat. She rode the shift in momentum with sledgehammer shots down the line and across the court to win the slugfest 2-6, 6-1, 6-1.
“To be honest, she played unbelievable tennis in the first set. I wasn’t really ready for that fast tennis. She was just getting everything in. I don’t know, magically, I turned the match around. I started playing even more aggressively to put her under pressure, especially on her serve. It worked well and just super happy with this win,” Sabalenka said.
Talking about the frequent changes at the top of the WTA rankings with no single player dominating, Sabalenka, who won the first Grand Slam title in Australia, sees plenty of positivity due to the high standards on the tour.
“Tennis has improved a lot. Everyone has started working with their own fitness coach, trainer, tennis coach, hitting partner. Right now there’s never any easy matches. There's not much of a difference between somewhere far in the hundred or top 20,” Sabalenka said.
“Everyone can beat everyone, that’s why it’s a little bit tougher right now. That’s why top players are struggling a lot with that. You have to bring out your best tennis from the beginning of the tournament, so you’re spending a lot of energy before the final. Then at the end, it’s tougher to play. It’s a positive thing. I wish we would dominate like Steff Graf and Serena Williams used to.”
Even World No. 1 Iga Swiatek of Poland felt that the players on the WTA Tour are consistent. “Right now, after a couple of years of hearing that we’re not consistent, we are actually consistent. There are many top players who are playing great on most of the tournaments,” said the top seed in Dubai.
Sabalenka, 24, who has set her sights on becoming the world No 1, is on course for a clash with top-ranked Swiatek after booking her place in the quarterfinals in Dubai, extending her winning run to 13 matches. However, Sabalenka hopes to focus on the current match or tournament, and not look far ahead.
“When you start thinking about these things, it never works. I’m trying to focus on myself. I’m pretty sure that Iga was doing the same thing last year, focusing on her game. That’s why she did really well. I’ll do my best to win as many matches in a row. But you just have to work really hard and stay focused. I’m doing my best,” Sabalenka said.
Sabalenka, who had modified her serve with the help of biomechanics trainer, was livid after serving two double-faults on Tuesday. But on Wednesday, she didn't err much slashing the errors by 50 per cent.
“I'm still improving, so it’s better than yesterday. No, I’m not livid,” Sabalenka said with a huge smile after overcoming a tough challenge. “Today, I was trying to mix it up a little bit. Wasn’t really going for flat serves. Yeah, it’s really helped me to stay in the game.”
Ostapenko wasn't as fortunate, sending down seven double faults, leading to her meltdown in the second and third sets. Sabalenko will meet Barbara Krejcikova in the quarterfinal.