ABU DHABI, U.A.E. -- New year, same Aryna Sabalenka.
The No.4 seed from Belarus opened the 2021 season exactly where she left off last year, notching her third consecutive title at the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open with a dominant 6-2, 6-2 victory over first-time WTA singles finalist Veronika Kudermetova of Russia.
"I was doing everything I could in each match from the beginning, and I’m really happy to start this season with a title," Sabalenka told the media during her post-match press conference.
"Every final is really something special, and I would say, finals are a different competition," the Belarusian stated. "This final was really nice, and I would say a really fast game."
World No.10 Sabalenka extended her career-best winning streak to 15 straight matches with her hour-long win over Kudermetova, following up her 2020 season-ending trophies at Ostrava and Linz with a crown at this year’s season-opening tournament.
"I’m really happy to keep winning, and I’ll do everything I can to keep winning!" Sabalenka laughed. "Nobody likes to lose!"
Beautifully placed drop shot ✨@SabalenkaA | #AbuDhabiWTA pic.twitter.com/bN6Bo8ODZR— wta (@WTA) January 13, 2021
The Belarusian used her power game to great effect on the day, with 18 winners outpacing her 13 unforced errors. Meanwhile, Kudermetova's breakthrough run, where she at last grabbed a WTA semifinal win in her fifth attempt, came to an end in the final with her 13 winners being negated by her 24 unforced errors.
"In the first two games of her serve, I was trying to see what she was doing on her serve," Sabalenka explained, having converted six of her 12 break points during the match. "Then, I don’t know, I just felt where she was serving, and I was just following my feelings, and it worked really well. I also put a lot of pressure on her in my service games."
Sabalenka, now with nine career WTA singles titles in her ledger, is projected to rise to a new career-high ranking of World No.7 when the WTA singles rankings are updated on Monday.
"I’m really proud that I was fighting no matter what," said Sabalenka. "Some matches, I didn’t feel my serve, some matches I didn’t feel my forehand or backhand, but I would just keep fighting, finding my shots, and that this is what I’m really proud of, and really happy with this title."
In the final, the pair breezed through the first five games without either player facing a break point, but Sabalenka halted the streak of uncomplicated service games at 3-2. There, the Belarusian took advantage of two double faults by the Russian to reach break point, then blasted a backhand return to open up a 4-2 lead.
15th consecutive win— wta (@WTA) January 13, 2021
3rd title in a row
9th title overall 🏆@SabalenkaA defeats Kudermetova 6-2, 6-2 for the title!#AbuDhabiWTA pic.twitter.com/MX6Od7P3xZ
Sabalenka went on to swiftly collect the opening frame without being tested on serve, slamming an overhead winner to consolidate her lead to 5-2 before powering returns at the feet of Kudermetova to break again for the one-set lead. Sabalenka won over three-quarters of her service points in the 26-minute first set.
Sabalenka mixed up her backhands at the start of the second set, breaking for 2-0 with a combination of fiery groundstrokes and deft dropshots from that side. An unfazed Kudermetova at last claimed a service break in the next game, but a series of errors by the Russian caused her to quickly drop serve again and fall behind 3-1.
The combatants battled through a protracted game at 4-1, where Sabalenka needed six break points before a thunderous forehand service return gave the No.4 seed a 5-1, double-break lead and a chance to serve out the championship.
In the following game, Sabalenka squandered a match point with a backhand misfire, kicking off a run of miscues which caused her to drop serve once more. But the Belarusian regrouped at 5-2, hitting another stunning return to claim a second match point, which she converted after one final forehand forced a wide error from Kudermetova.