The Insider Wrap is a weekly recap of everything you need to know from the week that was.
Player of the Week: Aryna Sabalenka
The numbers speak for themselves. Sabalenka kicked off the 2021 season by winning her third consecutive title, extend her winning streak to 15 consecutive matches, and rise to a career-high ranking at No.7. She did so by defeating three tough seeds in Ons Jabeur, Elena Rybakina, and Maria Sakkari, dropping just one set across six matches.
Sabalenka's dominant week will only fuel the conversation surrounding her chances at the Australian Open in three weeks. Still just 22 years old, the powerful Belarusian has advanced past the third round just once in her career, at the 2018 US Open.
But if you watch her play and listen to her speak, this is a different Sabalenka. Her famous fighting qualities still burn bright, but she has looked much calmer on court and far more willing to dismiss poor patches of play to just get on with it. As a result, Sabalenka heads down to Melbourne has a far more resilient competitor than she was a year ago.
Maria Sakkari: No player's stock rose higher after Abu Dhabi than Sakkari's. The World No.22 advanced to the semifinals by reeling off this string of wins:
1R: d. Potapova, 6-4, 6-2
2R: d. Gauff 7-5, 6-2
R16: d.  Muguruza, 7-5, 6-4
QF: d.  Kenin, 2-6, 6-2, 6-0
Sakkari would lose to the eventual champion, but the improvements in her hard court game were unshakable last week. Her serve in particular has become a weapon, which Sakkari credits with better explosion off the ground and into the ball. Long thought of as a grinding counter-puncher, 2021 could be the year Sakkari starts throwing haymakers of her own.
Sakkari: "I have a lot of power and I have been using it the right way. Up until last year I couldn't control my power so I had to take a bit of pace off b/c if I was hitting too hard I was missing many shots. So I think I've found a way and I've found my real pace on the court." pic.twitter.com/ZS737B5pjF— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) January 11, 2021
Elena Rybakina: Sabalenka lost just one set in Abu Dhabi and it came at the hands of Rybakina in the quarterfinals. The 21-year-old told reporters she was frustrated with her level throughout the week, but from the outside, you wouldn't have thought she had any reason for concern. Rybakina was striking the ball smoothly off the ground all week and looks prime to do some damage in Melbourne.
Veronika Kudermetova: The 23-year-old Russian has steadily improved over the last two seasons and kicked off 2021 by snapping her 0-4 streak in WTA semifinals to advance to her first tour-level final. Kudermetova did some heavy lifting in Abu Dhabi, defeating No.10 seed Anett Kontaveit and No.2 seed Elina Svitolina, and will rise to a career-high No.36 on Monday.
Marta Kostyuk: The 18-year-old Ukrainian prodigy was the story of the week. Sitting just inside the Top 100 at No.99, Kostyuk battled her way to her first WTA semifinal, highlighted by two big wins over Hsieh Su-Wei and Sara Sorribes Tormo. She lost to frequent practice partner Veronika Kudermetova 7-5(8), 6-4, but Kostyuk walked the walk and talked the talk in Abu Dhabi. Her goal for the season was to rank inside the Top 50. After Abu Dhabi she now sits at a career-high No.78.
Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara: The Japanese doubles team had the perfect start to a season that includes an Olympics on home soil. Aoyama and Shibahara came back from the brink in their first round match, saving match points to defeat Klepac/Kostyuk and then knocked out the top seeds Hsieh/Krejickova in the quarterfinals. The duo captured their fourth team title by defeating Carter/Stefani in straight sets in the final.
Sara Sorribes Tormo: The 24-year-old Spaniard has made the quarterfinals or better at two of her last three events - both WTA 500 events - on fairly quick hard courts. Sorribes Tormo knocked out Roland Garros semifinalist Nadia Podoroska in the first round.
Surprise of the Week
No.292 Anastasia Gasonova d. No.6 Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 6-4 in the second round of Abu Dhabi. The 21-year-old Russian successfully qualified for the main draw and defeated Mona Barthel in her first career WTA main draw match in the first round and then, in her first-ever match against a Top 100 player, knocked out the No.3 seed in straight sets. That's a good week's work.
2: Players who saved at least one match point en route to victory. In Abu Dhabi, it was the top two seeds coming back from the brink on the same day. Top seed Sofia Kenin saved one match point to defeat Yulia Putintseva 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 in the Round of 16 and No.2 seed Elina Svitolina saved two match points to overcome Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-6(8).
3: Greek players in the main draw in Abu Dhabi - Maria Sakkari, Valentini Grammatikopoulou (LL), and Despina Papamichail (LL). This was the first time three Greek women played the main draw of a WTA event since Sakkari's mother, Angeliki Kanellopoulou, Christina Papadaki, and Olga Tsarboloulou played the 1989 Athens Trophy.
Most Titles Won Before Turning 23 (Active Players)
31 - Kim Clijsters
29 - Venus Williams
24 - Serena Williams
12 - Victoria Azarenka
10 - Petra Kvitova
9 - Svetlana Kuznetsova
9 - Elina Svitolina
9 - Aryna Sabalenka
8 - Simona Halep
Players To Win 15 Consecutive Matches Or More Since 2010
34 - Serena Williams
26 - Victoria Azarenka
17 - Bianca Andreescu
17 - Simona Halep
15 - Maria Sharapova
15 - Timea Bacsinszky
15 - Elina Svitolina
15 - Venus Williams
15 - Julia Goerges
15 - Ashleigh Barty
15 - Aryna Sabalenka
Pic of the Week
Quote of the Week
Marta Kostyuk has a post-tennis career as an analyst if she wants it.
Inside the Athlete’s Mind: Marta Kostyuk talks through her rollercoaster win over Hsieh Su-Wei, which saw the 18-year-old fail to close out a 6-3, 5-1 lead and then rally from 1-3 down in the third to win. #AbuDhabiWTA pic.twitter.com/UDklfuZwZP— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) January 9, 2021