Aryna Sabalenka Plays Down High Expectations Ahead Of Dubai Return
The 24-year-old will return to action this week for the first time since her maiden Grand Slam triumph.
Recently crowned Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka believes her successful start to the season is linked to how she has approached matches from a mental perspective.
The world No.2 is currently on an 11-match winning streak after claiming back-to-back titles in Australia last month. Sabalenka stormed to the Adelaide Open trophy without dropping a set before winning her maiden Grand Slam title in Melbourne Park two weeks later. During this period, the only player to have taken a set off her was Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the Australian Open final.
Sabalenka returns to action this week at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. As a result of her breakthrough in the majors, expectations are high for the Belarussian to impress in other tournaments. However, she has vowed not to focus on what others say and stay focused on her own game which she believes will help her claim more silverware in the future.
“I would like to just focus on myself because I think the only thing why I won the Australian Open is because I was focusing on myself. I didn’t really think about all the expectations, all the things happening around.” Sabalenka told reporters on Sunday.
“I kept telling myself that I have to bring my level on court, I have a lot of chances to win the match.”
Whilst saying ‘something’ has changed in her mind as a result of her Australian Open win, she admits there is still work to be done. She is coached by Anton Dubrov and last year worked closely with a biomechanics expert which has helped elevate her serve. Sabalenka produced 428 double faults last year which she admits was due to a combination of technical error and her mentality whilst serving.
“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 said, “It’s just really nice to achieve your goal but I still have to work, so nothing has changed much.”
In Dubai, Sabalenka has enjoyed moderate success in the past by reaching the quarter-final stage of the tournament three times in 2018, 2020 and 2021. Although last year she was knocked out in the second round by Petra Kvitova.
“This year is different because they changed the balls. The surface is new. It’s different than it was last year. Last year was super fast. The balls were flying.” She commented on the conditions.
“Right now I feel like I have more chances to do well in this tournament just because of these changes.”
Sabalenka, who has a bye in the first round, will begin her campaign against either Jil Teichmann or Anastasia Potapova.
Miami Open Daily Preview: Elena Rybakina Plays Jessica Pegula in the Semifinals
Due to rain on Wednesday, only one WTA semifinal will be played on Thursday.
Elena Rybakina is just two wins away from completing the “Sunshine Double,” which is winning both Indian Wells and Miami. But in Thursday’s WTA semifinal, American No.1 Jessica Pegula stands in her way. The other semifinal is still to be determined, and will not be played until Friday, as Petra Kvitova and Ekaterina Alexandrova will contest their rain-delayed quarterfinal on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the ATP quarterfinals will be completed on Thursday. Indian Wells finalist Daniil Medvedev faces American Chris Eubanks, who has been the breakout story of this tournament thus far. Also, Karen Khachanov takes on Francisco Cerundolo, who is vying for his second consecutive semifinal in Miami. And delayed from Wednesday night, Carlos Alcaraz battles Taylor Fritz in another ATP quarterfinal.
You can find a preview of the Alcaraz/Fritz and Kvitova/Alexandrova quarterfinals in yesterday’s daily preview here.
Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule. Thursday’s play gets underway at 1:00pm local time.
Chris Eubanks (Q) vs. Daniil Medvedev (4) – 1:00pm on Stadium
Medvedev leads the ATP with 26 wins this season, as well as with three titles. Daniil has not dropped a set to this stage, though he’s only played two matches thus far due to a walkover earlier this week.
Eubanks has already won six matches this fortnight after coming through qualifying. And the 26-year-old achieved a career goal of breaking into the top 100 with this quarterfinal run. Chris became emotional on-court after clinching that feat on Monday, and followed it up with another upset the next day, over Adrian Mannarino. The American is projected to become ranked 85th in the world on Monday, but a win on Thursday would propel him into the top 60.
In their first career meeting, of course the self-proclaimed “hard court specialist” Medvedev is a strong favorite. But I’m quite interested to see how Eubanks performs in the biggest match of his career. During a rain delay on Monday, Frances Tiafoe provided Eubanks with some advice in the locker room, which Chris credited with helping him come back in the second-set tiebreak once play resumed. He’s played more freely since that comeback, and Eubanks may feel as if he has nothing to lose on Thursday.
Elena Rybakina (10) vs. Jessica Pegula (3) – Not Before 8:30pm on Stadium
Rybakina is 20-4 this season, and is currently on a 10-match win streak. If her 2,000 points from winning Wimbledon last summer counted, she’d currently be ranked third in the world. Elena easily dispatched of Martina Trevisan in the last round.
Pegula is 19-5 on the year, and 10-3 in Miami. This is her second consecutive semifinal at this event, and she’s the No.3 player in the world without Rybakina’s Wimbledon points counting. She saved multiple match points to come back and defeat Anastasia Potapova during Tuesday’s quarterfinals.
Pegula is 2-0 against Rybakina, with both matches taking place on hard courts during 2022. A year ago at this same tournament, Jess prevailed in straight sets. And last fall in Guadalajara, Pegula outlasted Rybakina in a final-set tiebreak, another match in which the American saved multiple match points. As confident as Elena currently is, with her big serve and groundstrokes dictating play, it’s hard not to favor the reigning Wimbledon champ. But based on their recent history, as well as Pegula’s rising confidence after saving match points in the last round, I give Jess the slight edge in Thursday’s semifinals on home soil.
Other Notable Matches on Thursday:
Francisco Cerundolo (25) vs. Karen Khachanov (14) – Cerundolo was in danger of falling out of the top 40 with an early loss in Miami, defending the best result of his career at this level, but has impressed by returning to the quarterfinals, defeating Felix Auger-Aliassime on the way. Khachanov upset Stefanos Tsitsipas in the last round, and is looking to reach his first Masters semifinal since 2019. Last summer in Canada, Karen defeated Francisco in three sets.
Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.
Miami Open Daily Preview: Indian Wells Champs Carlos Alcaraz and Taylor Fritz Collide
On Wednesday in Miami, 2023 Indian Wells champion Carlos Alcaraz faces 2022 champ Taylor Fritz for the first time.
Alcaraz is just three wins away from defending his Miami title, which he needs to do in order to remain World No.1. Wednesday’s other ATP quarterfinal sees Indian Wells semifinalist Jannik Sinner take on Emil Ruusuvuori, who is the first Finnish quarterfinalist at a Masters 1000 tournament in a decade.
In the WTA singles draw, Aryna Sabalenka and Petra Kvitova are one round away from a big-hitting semifinal. But first, they must get past Sorana Cirstea and Ekaterina Alexandrova, respectively.
Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule. Wednesday’s play gets underway at 1:00pm local time.
Ekaterina Alexandrova (18) vs. Petra Kvitova (15) – Not Before 7:00pm on Stadium
Kvitova is 14-5 this season, and has now reached the quarterfinals of both Indian Wells and Miami this month. Petra has also now advanced to the fourth round or better of this event for the fifth straight time, and has not dropped a set this fortnight.
Alexandrova had a losing record this year before arriving in Miami. She defeated Belinda Bencic two rounds ago, and advanced in the last round after Bianca Andreescu’s upsetting ankle injury. This is Ekaterina’s second WTA 1000 quarterfinal, after first achieving that feat last year in Madrid, when she advanced to the semifinals.
Their only previous encounter occurred three years ago at the Australian Open, when Kvitova comfortably prevailed 6-1, 6-2. Ekaterina does not possess the same offensive weaponry of Petra, so on a hard court, the two-time Wimbledon champion is a considerable favorite to win again on Wednesday.
Carlos Alcaraz (1) vs. Taylor Fritz (9) – Not Before 8:30pm on Stadium
Alcaraz is 17-1 on the season, despite missing all of January due to injury. His only loss came to Cam Norrie in the final of Rio, a match in which Carlitos reaggravated his leg injury. He’s yet to drop a set during this tournament.
Fritz is 20-5 in 2023, and has now reached the quarterfinals or better at his last five events. This is Taylor’s first quarterfinal in Miami, and his third consecutive quarterfinal as Masters 1000 events in North America. Like Alcaraz, he’s also yet to lose a set in Miami, but he’s 1-4 in his last five Masters quarterfinals.
This is the first career meeting between the World No.1 and the American No.1. Fritz certainly has the firepower to threaten Alcaraz on this day. But based on Carlitos’ recent sharp form, the 19-year-old is the favorite to advance to the semifinals.
Other Notable Matches on Wednesday:
Sorana Cirstea vs. Aryna Sabalenka (2) – Sabalenka is now a stellar 20-2 on the year, and has allowed her opponents this past week an average of just 2.5 games per set. Cirstea is having an excellent March, having advanced to her second consecutive WTA 1000 quarterfinal, a stage she hadn’t reached since 2017. This is another first-time career meeting.
Emil Ruusuvuori vs. Jannik Sinner (10) – Sinner is vying for his second consecutive Masters semifinal, and has not dropped a set thus far in Miami. This is Ruuuvuori’s maiden Masters 1000 quarterfinal, at the only Masters event where he had ever previously advanced beyond the third round. Jannik is 4-0 against Emil, with all of those wins in straight sets, except a match in Miami a year ago that went to a third-set tiebreak, and saw Sinner save three match points.
Wednesday’s full Order of Play is here.
Elena Rybakina Donates Money To The Next Generation Of Kazakh Tennis Players
Elena Rybakina says her decision to provide financial support to a group of young players is a way for her to say thank you for the support she has received from the Kazakh Tennis Federation.
The reigning Wimbledon champion has donated 2.5 million Kazakhstani Tenge (£4500) to 14 players on the junior Tour to help fund their development for the future. She helped pick who would receive the donations after holding talks with the KTF about the country’s rising stars. Rybakina had previously pledged to provide support to young people in Kazakhstan after winning her maiden Grand Slam title last year but she hasn’t been able to finalize her donations until recently due to her commitments on the Tour.
“We actually talked with the Federation earlier. It just happen now recently because I was travelling a lot and it’s not easy,” Rybakina told reporters following her quarter-final win over Martina Trevisan at the Miami Open.
“We talked with the Federation as I don’t know the girls that well as I’m travelling all the time.”
The 22-year-old was born in Russia but became a neutralized Kazakh citizen back in 2018. Her decision to do so was aided by the financial support she has received from the Kazakh tennis federation to help her development in the sport. Last year she was asked if she felt Russian or Kazakh and responded by saying ‘tough question.’
“It was just a big help for me when I started working professionally, from the Federation, so I was thinking that there is going to be a good way to thank back,” she said of her donation.
“Also, I think it’s important for young girls to have some kind of support since it’s not easy for everyone. Hopefully, they are gonna be around (on the Tour) soon.”
Rybakina is just two victories away from winning the sunshine double. A term used to describe a player winning events in both Indian Wells and Miami within the same year. She is currently on a 10-match winning streak and has only lost three sets during that period.
Awaiting the world No.10 in the semi-finals of Miami will be home favourite Jessica Pegula who won her maiden WTA 1000 title last year in Mexico. Pegula saved two match points to defeat Anastasia Potapova 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(2), in her latest match. In their head-to-head, Rybakina is yet to defeat the American after losing to her twice in 2022.
“For sure it’s gonna be a tough one. She’s a really good player and very consistent. I will try just to do my best to try to be fresh for that match.” She commented.
At the Miami Open Rybakina has already served 10 or more aces in four different matches. The last female player to do that at the same tournament was Serena Williams at the 2020 US Open.
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