Aryna Sabalenka is determined to use her Melbourne moment as motivation to maintain momentum in her first tournament since becoming a Grand Slam champion. File
Aryna Sabalenka says her maiden Grand Slam triumph at the Australian Open last month has further fuelled her hunger for success, as she looks to add more silverware to her cabinet.
The world No.2 is undefeated so far in 2023, having won both tournaments she has contested to accrue a perfect 11-0 record.
Sabalenka will put her winning streak on the line in Dubai this week, where she will make her first on-court appearance since lifting the trophy in Melbourne with victory over Elena Rybakina in the final three weeks ago.
The 24-year-old Belarusian admits it took her some time to fully realise she has become a Grand Slam champion but has no intention of slowing down.
“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’,” Sabalenka told reporters in Dubai on Sunday.
“I was having this conversation in my head that, ‘Wow, that happened’. It’s so amazing. Now I have even more motivation to work hard, just to feel it again.”
Sabalenka opens her campaign against either Swiss Jil Teichmann or Russia’s Anastasia Potapova in the second round and is feeling good about her chances at the WTA 1000 tournament.
“This year is different because they changed the balls,” she said.
“The surface is new. It’s different than it was last year. Last year was super fast. The balls were flying.
“Right now I feel like I have more chances to do well in this tournament just because of these changes.”
Sabalenka believes focusing on herself and blocking out all the outside noise was the key to her title run in Australia and she is looking for more of the same moving forward.
She insists not much has shifted in her world since achieving major glory.
“I still have to work hard. I still have to prove every time on the court that I’m in the right place. Nothing changed much,” she added.
After arriving in Dubai 12 months ago as top seed, Sabalenka suffered the ignominy of a straight-sets loss to 2013 champion Petra Kvitova in the second round. Fast forward a year, and with 17 of the world’s Top-20 players in this year’s field at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, Sabalenka, seeded second, is conscious of avoiding another early exit.
“The draw is really strong,” she said. “I like this tournament. I like this city. Of course, I want to win this tournament, but I’m not looking at the draw that far ahead. 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 semi-final match or whatever. I’m just trying to take it step by step.
“Each opponent is really tough. I think tennis has improved a lot, if you see No.1 playing against No.30, it doesn’t say anything. Anyone can beat anyone, so I’m just taking it step by step.”
Meanwhile, world No.5 Caroline Garcia is in search of the top form that saw her soar up the rankings last season, which she finished by claiming the prestigious WTA Finals crown.
With a fourth-round showing at the Australian Open, and runner-up in Lyon earlier this month, Garcia’s start to 2023 has been promising.
However, the Frenchwoman confessed she has not been too pleased with her level and is trying to lower her expectations after a standout 2022.
“I wish it would be better, better results in the beginning of the year. I didn’t feel very good on court,” she said.
“I didn’t really feel like playing my game completely free, completely relaxed, completely like letting things go.
“It’s definitely something we were working on since a week. We want to stop comparing to how things were last year, full of confidence, full of playing I don’t know how many matches,” added the 29-year-old, who plays 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys in the second round.