Aryna Sabalenka is the newly minted Australian Open women’s champion. It wasn’t her maiden major; she had already won two doubles titles (US Open and Australian Open). But a singles Grand Slam is different. The feeling is totally different. It’s the product of blood, sweat and tears over the years. It’s the realisation of a dream.
What does the Melbourne triumph mean to Sabalenka? What went through her mind after the win?
“It means a lot to me. I believed in myself, but I was waiting for so long. I was working so hard, but I couldn’t get it. I had some tough losses in the semifinals. Then when I won, I was super happy. I couldn’t believe it in the beginning. Then for the next week, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I did it. Yes, it happened. I was having this conversation in my head, ‘Wow, that did happen’. It’s so amazing. Now I’m even more ambitious, hungry and motivated,” Sabalenka said during an interaction with the media on Sunday.
What did Sabalenka do differently in Melbourne? What changed? Focus was key, says the World No. 2.
“I was focusing on myself. I didn’t really think about all the expectations, [and] all the things happening around [me]. This is a Grand Slam. [So] I was just focusing on myself. I kept telling myself that I have to bring my level to court. I have a lot of chances to win the match. So, I’ll just focus on myself,” Sabalenka said.
Serve wasn’t one of Sabalenka’s strengths. Throughout her career, the Belarusian has struggled with it, but the serve fell into place in Australia. What changed? How did she transform her serve into a weapon?
"This year, it’s different because they changed the balls [in Dubai]. The surface is new. Right now, I feel like I have a better chance of doing well in this tournament because of these changes
“I was struggling a lot. [Initially], it was biomechanics [issue], then it was a mental [part too]. I just watched a lot of videos of my serve. I understood that there was a lot of wrong motion on my serve from the biomechanical side. I couldn’t put the serve in. So I just changed the motion a lot. I just changed it,” Sabalenka said.
The first Grand Slam singles title, obviously, must have meant a lot to her. How did Sabalenka treat herself after the Australian Open win? “I had a few days off, kind of to understand everything. Then we started practising. And I came straight to Dubai,” she said.
There was no time to wallow in the afterglow of the Melbourne triumph. Time for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, a tournament Sabalenka is yet to win. But the Belarusian feels her prospects are better this year since the court has been relaid and the balls have changed.
“This year, it’s different because they changed the balls. The surface is new. It’s different than it was last year. Last year, it was superfast. The balls were flying. Right now, I feel like I have a better chance of doing well in this tournament because of these changes,” Sabalenka said.
The draw is really strong here [in Dubai]. I like this tournament. I like this city. Yeah, of course, I want to win this tournament.
How strong are Sabalenka’s chances of winning in Dubai? Seventeen of the top 20 players in the WTA tour are here, and top seed Iga Swiatek of Poland comes into the tournament fresh from her win at the Qatar Open. So how are Sabalenka’s chances?
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“The draw is really strong here [in Dubai]. I like this tournament. I like this city. Yeah, of course, I want to win this tournament. I know that there are a lot of matches ahead, a lot of tough matches ahead, so I have to work hard. If I win this tournament, it will be really great,” the Australian Open champ said.
“I’m not looking at the draw that far. I’m just taking it step by step. Sometimes you look far in the draw; then, you lose the first match because you’re already thinking about your semifinal match. Each opponent is really tough. I think tennis is improved a lot. Like, if you see in the draw [and see] No. 1 playing against No. 30, it doesn’t say anything. Anyone can beat anyone,” Sabalenka said, summing up her challenge.