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Aryna Sabalenka hitting a double-fisted backhand return during her win over world No 1 Iga Swiatek on Day 3 of the Meteora World Tennis League in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. Image Credit: Source: WTL

Abu Dhabi: Aryna Sabalenka is in her own zone in Abu Dhabi. The team-based Meteora World Tennis League has brought the best out of the world No 2, who kept the fans entertained with a high-class exhibition of tennis and also with her pranks off the court at the Etihad Arena.

In the last couple of days, the affable Belarusian eased past Mirra Andreeva and then followed it up with a stunning win over Elena Rybakina on Friday. In a repeat of the Australian Open final, Sabalenka rallied from 5-2 down to beat the world No 4 Kazakh. On Saturday, she produced a better game against world No 1 Iga Swiatek to take SG Mavericks Kites into Sunday’s final.

Bragging rights

The world No 1 and the world No 2 matched shot for shot to have the bragging rights for the new year. Sabalenka raised her level a notch at the right time to beat the Pole 6-4.

“I really enjoyed being in a team. It’s a different format, but I really like it. It’s so much fun. We like the support and the feeling that we’re not alone there. We are really enjoying our time being together as a team,” the 25-year-old told Gulf News.

Sabalenka has no shortage for fun during the tournament as the Kites team consists of her best friend Paula Badosa and the Spaniard’s boyfriend Stefanos Tsitsipas. Add Gregor Dimitrov in the mix and you will be surprised to see the amount fun that they have been having in between the games and matches.

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Sabalenka and her friend and doubles partner Badosa having a laugh during their loss to Carolina Garcia and Iga Swiatek. Image Credit: Source: WTL

Talking about her wins over Rybakina and Swiatek, Sabalenka said: “We had a lot of great matches against each other. Honestly, we didn’t play the full match, but played just a set. Of course, it’s really good to have these kind of matches before going into the next season. I think we played really great tennis, great level and it’s really great to have these matches ahead of the next season.”

For Sabalenka, 2023 has been the best year after winning her first Grand Slam title and then she followed it up with semi-final appearances in French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open and also lost to Swiatek in the semi-finals of the WTA Tour finals in Mexico.

One more day to play and have fun

Sabalenka is looking forward to Sunday’s final and is happy that it gave her and her teammates one more day to have fun.

“That’s awesome that we have one more match and one more day as a team so that we can enjoy our tennis and just have fun. I think our team was the funniest one or probably the craziest one in the tournament,” she added.

For the record the Kites topped the table at the end of the three-round league with 79 points. PBG Eagles and Honor FX Falcon finished level on points at 75 and Eagles won the tiebreak service game to move ahead.

In the final against Eagles, Sabalenka will encounter another tenacious player in Sofia Kenin, who played a big role in her team entering the second edition’s final.

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A happy Kites team celebrate their win over Hawks on Saturday. Image Credit: Source: WTL

Eagles had a huge climb at the start of the day and it required grit, determination and team effort to overcome the deficit against the Falcons.

Fiesty competitor

American tennis star Kenin ensured the Eagles had a perfect start as she partnered Mirra Andreeva to win the women’s doubles and then defeated world No 26 Sorana Cirstea with a stubborn effort to take her team closer to the title round.

Talking about her aggressive and determined effort, the American said it comes to her naturally.

“I was always like that when I was small. It’s not something you can really teach around, I have always been a feisty kid. It’s just a natural thing,” she said during the courtside interview.

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Sofia Kenin won both her doubles and singles matches for Eagles against Falcons on Saturday. Image Credit: Source: WTL

The Eagles have their own share of fun with friends Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev fooling around and cracking jokes between them and to their rivals.

The duo have been in best form to take the Eagles to the top of the table during the early part of Saturday.

Relaxed approach

Talking about his performance, Rublev tried to underplay the pressure of the contest, saying he is using this as a preparation for the new year.

“I am completely relaxed. We try to do our best in matches. If we don’t win, nothing happens and if we win, nothing happens. So it’s more like a good practice before season. I need to improve on a few things and will try to focus on those and see what’s going to happen,” told the world No 5, who has won one Masters title and has entered three Grand Slam quarter-finals this year.

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Andrey Rublev and Daniil Medvedev celebrate their win over Taylor Fritz and Sumit Nagal. Image Credit: Source: WTL

Medvedev had a scare when Taylor Fritz defeated him in the final singles contest to bring Falcons level on points, but the world No 3 eased to victory in the service game to take Eagles into the final.

“I didn’t play a very good match, but thanks to the rules I got the service game. I have the ammunition to serve well and won it for my team,” Medvedev added.

The final promises a lot of thrilling action and lots of fun in what is dubbed as the Greatest Show on Court.