Aryna Sabalenka was on the brink of an early exit twice at the J&T Banka Ostrava Open, but in the end, she was the one holding two trophies. The 22-year-old became the first player to sweep the singles and doubles titles at a Premier-level event (or higher) since 2016 after winning her seventh WTA singles title and pairing with Elise Mertens to capture their fourth doubles title as a team.
Sabalenka came through the first all-Belarusian final in WTA history on Sunday, defeating former No.1 Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 6-2. The title was Sabalenka's second of the season, having won the Qatar Total Open in February, and her rollercoaster run in Ostrava was further proof that when it all comes together, Aryna Sabalenka is an absolute force on hardcourts.
Sabalenka joined the WTA Insider Podcast to reflect her week in Ostrava, the mid-tournament adjustment that made a world of difference on court, and what she needs to do to transfer this success to the Grand Slams.
WTA Insider: It is rare for a player to sweep both the singles and doubles titles at a big tournament. This result seemed a long way off at the beginning of the week, when you had to mount big comebacks in your first two matches. This run to the title was a rollercoaster, even for you.
Sabalenka: Oh, it was thrilling, but I mean, I have to handle my emotions. I have to learn how to stay focused and stay really strong emotionally from the beginning of the match. I think after the quarterfinal, I kind of did it really well.
It's an amazing week for me and I'm just super happy with the result, both singles and doubles. I could do it in Wuhan last year but I was so tired and in doubles I couldn't help Elise so much. This time we did it and I'm super, super happy with that.
I'm really happy that physically I could handle it, especially on these kinds of courts, because this court is really slow and low and you have to stay really low. It really hits you in the back, in your legs, but I feel really well. Even I had the match when I played Gauff for like two hours and a half almost and then I had a two hours match in doubles and it was really intense there, the next day I felt kind of OK.
So I'm really happy with my physical abilities. This is really awesome and I'm really happy with this more than even the titles.
But I'm super happy with the titles (laughs).
WTA Insider: You were 2-5 in the third set in your first match against Coco Gauff. You were five points away from losing 6-0, 6-0 to Sara Sorribes Tormo in the quarterfinals. She had won the first 10 games and then you run the next 12 and then against Jennifer Brady and Victoria Azarenka, two of the hottest players on hardcourt since the restart. You don't drop a set and you look very in control. How do you kind of explain your week in in Ostrava?
Sabalenka: I would see the first two matches were really hard ones and somehow I found the way back. After the quarterfinal match, I didn't really want it to happen again, especially against players like Brady or Azarenka, because if you give them some opportunities, they will never lose them. And I knew that I have to stay focused from the beginning of the matches.
And after the first two matches, you kind of feel like there is no pressure on you anymore because you know that your game is there and your fighting spirit is also there. So you know that you're going to fight no matter what and you're strong.
I also changed my warm-up a little bit after the first two matches. So I get tired a little bit in the warm-up, to make sure the beginning of the first sets in the first two matches is going to happen in the warm-up so I'm ready to go from the beginning (laughs).
This week was really thrilling for me and I'm really super happy that step-by-step I was learning something and I was changing it, and this is the good thing.
WTA Insider: On the topic of your new warm-up routine. Are you running five miles before your matches now to make sure your body is ready to fire immediately?
Sabalenka: Well, I have like a one-hour warm-up and my coach is moving me on the court, so my legs are ready to move on the match court. That's what I changed. And also on the warm-up, we're doing some sprints, more jumps, more throwing the balls to make sure I get tired and my muscles are really ready to go. I think some players need it and I think I'm one of those players who need a strong warm-up.
WTA Insider: You mentioned your coach Anton. How important was this win for you, because you had a lot of success with Dmitry Tursunov. Now you've had a great week with a new team in place.
Sabalenka: Now I know that I can adjust to every situation that will happen. I think it was a really important week for me and for Anton as a coach. It gave us a lot of confidence and we can work even more successfully, I would say. We trust each other because we worked for a long time. He was my hitting partner for a few years, so he knows me really well. But for now, as a coach, we really need this win. It's something different and it was really important for us.
We're very happy with this result. It gives us so much power and emotionally, we're really happy and something released so we can really work even more and trust each and try maybe new things. That's awesome for us.
WTA Insider: This is your seventh title and second this season, after winning in Doha in February. You have won at least 2 titles in each of the last three seasons and six of your seven titles have been at the Premier level or higher. What does it say about you that you can have this success regardless of what is going on around you each season?
Sabalenka: First of all, I'm really happy that I'm winning some titles, like at least two per year and it's huge titles. I know that my level is really high and I can win the titles no matter what. Even if I'm losing some tournaments, I know that there is some point when I can change it.
So it's all about my head. If I'm fresh and really, really want it this title, then I push myself really, really hard in the matches. So I move well, I'm fighting for each point, no matter what.
During the whole year, I know that I can do it. I just need to bring everything together: my mental game, my physical game, my shots, my feeling on the court. Everything should be together.
WTA Insider: Do you ever want it too much?
Sabalenka: That's also the problem because sometimes you want it too much and you are doing too much work, which you don't need to do. Like during the game you're like moving, like all around the court, like crazy, and you're disconnected (laughs).
You have to find this perfect balance. And I know that as soon as I find this balance, I know that I can do everything. I want to find this balance at the Grand Slams (laughs). This is my goal for the next year.
WTA Insider: How do you plan to celebrate the title and, once the season is over, what are you most looking forward to for your off-season?
Sabalenka: Well, first of all, maybe I will eat some sugar (laughs). But I'm not sure, actually, because for now I feel like I don't want sugar and it's weird.
But yeah, after Linz I will spend time with my family. This helps me to relax really well, so I don't need to go somewhere else and rest. I'll see my friend, she's living in Russia. So I'll go and celebrate her birthday and then I'll go back at home and spend some time with my family, rest, and prepare myself for one more pre-season. But it's not going to be that long. It's not like for a few months, it just like five or six weeks.
I think I easily can handle it (laughs). These are my goals for the next weeks.