World No.2 Aryna Sabalenka broke through during the hard-court season to start the year, winning her first 13 matches and peaking with her first Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open.
Now Sabalenka is aiming to switch to the clay courts and continue her superb year. After withdrawing from Charleston with a minor injury, her run on the dirt will start at this week's WTA 500 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, where she is the No.2 seed.
"I never say that clay is not one of my favorite surfaces," Sabalenka told the media on Tuesday in Stuttgart. "Actually, I really enjoy playing on clay. I really enjoy [the] extra time. I had good results on clay courts."
Sabalenka has had successful results on clay in recent seasons. She put together a stellar clay-court season two years ago, where she went 13-3, including a WTA 1000 title in Madrid.
And the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix is a particularly strong clay-court event for Sabalenka. She has finished as Stuttgart runner-up in the past two seasons, to Ashleigh Barty in 2021 and Iga Swiatek in 2022.
"I practiced [a] few days on this surface, and I felt good on this court," Sabalenka said about her preparation at the indoor clay event this week. "I feel comfortable playing on this court. We'll see by the end of this week if it's good or not."
Wooow guys...what just happened? I have a fear that this was all a dream and l'm about to wake up. It's all still sinking in, but I could not be happier in this moment.— Sabalenka Aryna (@SabalenkaA) January 29, 2023
Thank you so much for all the support during this few weeks,I really appreciate it.. pic.twitter.com/vwyxezbLw8
A big result at Roland Garros is also a goal for Sabalenka. She has reached the semifinals or better at the other three majors but has never progressed beyond the third round in Paris.
"I really want to be in the second week of the French Open," Sabalenka said. "Also, I really want to do well here [in Stuttgart]."
Even during her excellent clay-court campaign in 2021, Sabalenka fell in the third round in Paris -- although that loss came against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who went on to reach the final.
Sabalenka admitted her previous Roland Garros results were possibly more about the occasion than the surface.
"I would say I was just struggling with the Grand Slams before, and it was more about me really wanting to win a Grand Slam and me getting really crazy on matches than something about the clay," Sabalenka said. "Because [the] clay is good there, and it's one of the best clay courts there."
Sabalenka will have a challenging opener in Stuttgart against World No.12 Barbora Krejcikova in the second round. Krejcikova dismissed No.15 Liudmila Samsonova 6-2, 6-0 on Tuesday night, setting up the fourth meeting between Krejcikova and Sabalenka already this year.
If Sabalenka continues to do well, she could come out of the clay-court season retaining her current position as No.1 in this year's Race to the WTA Finals. Sabalenka is presently 314 points ahead of No.2 Elena Rybakina.
Sabalenka is also eyeing a potential rise to the No.1 ranking.
"Of course I want to be No.1," Sabalenka said. "But I prefer not focusing on the points and all this stuff. I prefer to focus on myself, on my game, and make sure that I improve myself every day.
"I just believe that if I'm gonna focus on myself and try to make myself better, the result will come. But of course I want to be No.1, as every one of us does."