ADELAIDE, Australia - Aryna Sabalenka is starting her season with a heavy heart. The World No.12's father Sergey passed away suddenly in November at the age of 43.
“It was something unexpected, he was young, he was 43, and I didn’t want to say that but I think people should know," Sabalenka told a small group of reporters after defeating Hsieh Su-Wei in the first round of the Adelaide International. The reigning Wuhan champion came from 3-5 down in the final set to win 5-7. 6-1, 7-5, finding her rhythm just in time to fend off the crafty Hsieh.
Reflecting on the aftermath of her father's passing, the 21-year-old said boarding a plane for the start of the season was not an easy decision.
“During the pre-season it was tough to practice mentally," Sabalenka said. "I didn’t think too much actually. I couldn’t leave, because I knew it was a tough situation with my family and I couldn’t leave them but somehow I needed to go. I wasn’t excited about the matches, I just went there because I have to.”
Sabalenka's tough 2019 season ended on a high note when she successfully defended her Wuhan title and finished the season by winning WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai, defeating Kiki Bertens in the final. What should have been a celebratory off-season soon took a tragic turn. Her father is the reason a 6-year-old Sabalenka picked up a tennis racquet, after the pair drove past empty tennis courts and introduced the game to his daughter.
Sabalenka is in Australia with just her hitting partner, after splitting with coach Dmitry Tursunov for the time being.
“I’m just trying to fight because my dad wanted me to be No.1," Sabalenka said. "I’m doing it for him so that’s what is helping me to be strong right now."