WASHINGTON/LINZ, November 10, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
Aryna Sabalenka, the No. 1 seed at this week’s Upper Austria Ladies Linz, arrived at her virtual international media round table Monday afternoon smiling and in a happy mood to talk.
As the final week of the WTA’s pandemic-interrupted 2020 season unfolds in the capital city of Upper Austria, the 22-year-old native of Minsk, Belarus has had much to be thankful for. In her last tournament three weeks ago, Sabalenka won both singles and doubles titles at the J&T Banka Ostrava Open in Ostrava, Czech Republic. She beat fellow Belarusian Victoria Azarenka to win the singles crown in a tough Premier-level field. This time, the competition in this International event in Linz on paper appears a bit less strenuous. The World No. 11 Sabalenka is the only Top 20-ranked player in the 32-player draw. Her doubles partner, 21st-ranked Elise Mertens of Belgium, is seeded second. Two of the top eight seeds, No. 3 Dayana Yastremska (ranked 29th) and No. 8 Bernarda Pera (ranked 61st), lost in Monday’s first-round play.
— WTA Linz (@WTALinz) November 8, 2020
When Tennis TourTalk asked Sabalenka if she felt any added pressure being the top seed this week, she said: “I’m just focusing on my game, so there’s no extra pressure on me. I’m focusing on different things about my game. …
“I know that other players are going to try to beat me,” Sabalenka continued. “I just want to be consistent with my game and bring everything I have to each match. I want to make sure I’m focused from the beginning to the end of the match.”
In her first-round match, Sabalenka will face 94th-ranked Jasmine Paolini of Italy, who beat Sabalenka three years ago on grass in Ilkley, Great Britain. She said she won’t take her opponent lightly because she’s aware that everyone is capable of winning this week’s tournament. “In women’s tennis, anything can happen,” said Sabalenka.
After winning twin trophies in Ostrava, Sabalenka allowed herself a few days off and went home to Minsk to be with her family and “did some photo shooting, spent time with my sister. Then, it was back to practice.”
— WTA Linz (@WTALinz) November 9, 2020
This week, in addition to chasing after her third title of the season, Sabalenka has a chance at cracking the Top 10. She’s finished each of the past two years ranked No. 11. When she was asked by Tennis TourTalk what it would mean to finish in the Top 10, Sabalenka quipped: “It would mean I have improved because the last two years I’ve been pretty consistent with my ranking.
“I’m not here for the ranking, actually; I’m here for the matches. That’s what’s important for me.”
Looking back on her season, in which she’s compiled a 24-10 win-loss record coming into the final tournament – including a title in Doha back in February to go along with her latest one in Ostrava – Sabalenka said she was proud she’s improved her shot-making abilities. “I’m also proud that I could handle all of my emotions [going through the season] and that I could compete on a high level. Maybe not every time (laughing) but I tried.
“There is always something to work on,” Sabalenka confessed. “This week, I just want to play more matches. I don’t want to stop. I’ve already had five months off. I just want to keep playing. I feel well, so why not? I came here to compete. I want to show my best and improve my game. I’m here. I’m ready.”