By The Numbers, Third Straight WTA Title For Sabalenka

Aryna Sabalenka (photo: @WTA/Twitter)

WASHINGTON, January 13, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Clearly, Aryna Sabalenka is in the zone. Without doubt, she’s playing the best tennis of her professional career. On a bright Wednesday afternoon, the 22-year-old native of Minsk, Belarus, affirmed this as she dismantled Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova, 6-2, 6-2, in slightly more than an hour to garner her 15th straight match victory and third consecutive WTA singles title in the final of the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open in the Emirates capital.

“I’m really proud of the fact that I was fighting no matter what,” said the fourth-seeded Sabalenka, describing for Tennis TourTalk what she was most proud of in winning the ninth title of her career at Abu Dhabi. “Some matches, I didn’t feel my serve. Some matches, I didn’t feel my forehand or backhand. But I would just keep fighting and finding my shots. This is what I’m really proud of, and I’m really happy with this title.”

Sabalenka rode into the start of the new WTA season having secured her last nine matches of 2020, which included back-to-back indoor titles won in Ostrava, Czech Republic, and Linz, Austria. She continued her good run of form by stringing together six more victories in Abu Dhabi while dropping just one set. In fact, Ostrava, Linz and Abu Dhabi happen to be the only WTA events that have been played since Roland Garros last October. So, Sabalenka has become one of the biggest stories – if not the story – in women’s tennis.

“I’m really happy to start the season with a title,” Sabalenka said during her final virtual media news conference with international reporters in Abu Dhabi. “My biggest dream is to win a grand slam.”

The World No. 10, who will leap ahead of Bianca Andrescu, Petra Kvitova and Kiki Bertens to a career-best No. 7 when the new WTA Rankings are updated Monday, was solid in winning 70 percent of her first-serve points in the final against Kudermetova. Sabalenka served five aces, hit 18 winners and converted six of 12 break-point chances against her outmatched Russian opponent, who mustered just 13 winners and committed 24 unforced errors during the 62-minute match played at Zayed Sports City International Tennis Centre.

From the start of the final, Sabalenka applied plenty of pressure against Kudermetova, who entered the first WTA tournament of the season unseeded and ranked No. 46. Soon, the Belarusian’s level of intensity became evident. After exchanging holds through the first four games of the opening set, a determined Sabalenka caught fire and won six straight games – losing just six points – that built for her an insurmountable 6-2, 2-0 lead. She broke Kudermetova’s last six service games in a row while also applying pressure during her own service games. It was a winning one-two punch formula.

Abu Dhabi represents Sabalenka’s ninth career WTA singles title. She’s now won her last six finals in a row and nine of her last 10. “Every final is really something special; I’m happy with every final,” she said.

“I can’t say this was the best one – every final is something big – but this one was really nice.”

When Kudermetova was asked by Tennis TourTalk what positives she will take from her 5-1 week in Abu Dhabi, as she readies for next month’s Australian Open, she said: “I’m still positive. First week, first final. Of course, it’s a great feeling. Now, I have confidence; I beat good players in Abu Dhabi.”

Indeed, Kudermetova won five consecutive matches at this week’s WTA 500 event, starting with a satisfying win over No. 10 seed Anett Kontaveit in the first round and continuing with her stunning upset of World No. 5 Elina Svitolina in the quarterfinals. By reaching the Abu Dhabi final, she’s attained a career-best ranking of No. 36.

Although Kudermetova didn’t beat Sabalenka today, the young 23-year-old Russian remained upbeat during her final virtual news conference in Abu Dhabi. “[Aryna] played unbelievable because she didn’t give me a lot of chances,” Kudermetova said. “She tried to keep every ball on the court. She tried to attack if she could. She fights to the end. That’s why she’s a top player.”

Now, as Sabalenka readies to head off to the Australian Open in Melbourne, the fact remains that she’s not lost a tennis match since last September. “I’m really happy to keep winning, and I’ll do everything I can to keep winning,” she said with a hint of laughter in her voice. Then, turning more serious for a moment, she reflected: “I will keep on improving my game, working on some things. It’s not all about staying in shape. There’s always something to work on and to improve. As soon as you stop working on improving your game, you will start losing. Nobody likes to lose.”

Aoyama/Shibahara win their fourth title together

No. 5 seeds Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara, both of Japan, won their fourth WTA doubles title since pairing together in 2019. On Wednesday afternoon, the Japanese duo defeated No. 8 seeds Hayley Carter of the United States and Luisa Stefani from Brazil, 7-6 (5), 6-4.

Aoyama and Shibahara previous lifted trophies in Tianjin and Moscow in 2019 and St. Petersburg last year.

“Today’s match, we played well and we had some amazing points,” Shibahara said. “I think the first set was really important for us to take to keep it going in the second set. But we couldn’t let our guards down. I thought it was a really good match.”

Aoyama, 33, who is 11 years older than Shibahara, said: “If we can play well, we can win against every team, doesn’t matter our opponent. But it’s important to play our tennis. I think every player is strong. So, I need to challenge and challenge and challenge every round. If we can do a good fight and play good, then we can have a good result.”