Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) in action playing against Sara Errani (ITA), during day one of the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship at the Dubai Tennis Stadium, 19th February 2018, Dubai. Photo: Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Dubai: During last month’s Australian Open, a certain Aryna Sabalenka of Russia drew a lot of criticism for her loud grunting throughout her first round match against local girl Ashleigh Barty.

The Melbourne Park crowd mocked Sabalenka as her grunting reopened the familiar debate on-court decibel levels. Even appeals from the umpire didn’t change anything as the partisan crowd on Rod Laver Arena imitated the 19-year-old’s shrieks in-between points as she finally ended on the losing side after winning the first set in tiebreak.

“I really don’t care about the grunting because I am not the only one doing it. A lot of other players shout on the court as well. This is how I am and how I will be,” Sabalenka told Gulf News after going down to 2016 Dubai Open champion Sara Errani in the qualifiers at the Dubai Championships on Monday.

“Honestly, I don’t even hear myself when I am playing. Then later when I am watching videos of my matches, I say ‘seriously, is that me?’ I am in shock as the grunting is really, really a high pitch. For sure, I would like to apologise to players if they have got unnerved and disturbed. But this is how I am and no apologies for that,” she added.

In her defence, Sabalenka is not alone in this practice. Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and the Williams sisters are among the high-profile ones in women’s tennis while Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are also well-known for their pitch practice in the men’s game.

“I can’t change that part of me and I don’t want to change it just because someone doesn’t like me that way. I like the grunting or screeching or whatever you call it, as this is very much a part of my game now,” the girl from Minsk shrugged.

Other than that, it is just about tennis for Sabalenka including the ultimate goal “to be the best” she can. “I just want to keep going and be better with each match. Tennis has given me so much joy and happiness and I am here to show everyone that I am capable of being a very good player,” she said.

Improving this week from a career-high ranking of world No. 63 to 60 this week, Sabalenka has no plans of slowing down in her pursuit. “From the beginning of my career, I have just done everything that is tennis-centric. I am happy to be considered among the future stars and I will do everything possible to grow as a player,” she promised.

“One of the most important things in my life is to be better today than yesterday. Every day counts for me. I want to keep on improving each day, each week, each month. My best tennis will see me through to this goal. My future will be as a top tennis player and I will not rest till then,” Sabalenka added.

Growing up, she adored the likes of Sharapova and Serena. “Yeah as a kid, it was to be like them. But that is no longer the case now. I am already one of them with an identity of my own. I want to be who I am, and I am Aryna Sabalenka with an identity of my own,” she smiled.