BEIJING -- Aryna Sabalenka needed some time to get the loss in the US Open final out of her system, but the new World No.1 is ready to get back at the China Open.
The Hologic WTA Tour's return to Beijing for the first time since 2019 brings Sabalenka back to the country that sparked her career. Four of Sabalenka's first five titles came in China, winning 2018 Wuhan, 2019 Shenzhen, 2019 Wuhan and the 2019 WTA Elite Trophy.
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"I remember they used to call me 'Daughter of China,'" Sabalenka told reporters at China Open Media Day. "It was really cool. I liked it."
Sabalenka chalks up her success to her love of fried rice and the passionate fans in China, who have embraced her from the start of her career.
"I remember two women fighting for my headband," Sabalenka said. "I was just like, 'Guys, I'll bring you another one next time, just please don't fight.' That was the funniest memorable moment."
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Whoever won that headband battle has to be feeling good these days. The last time Sabalenka was in China she had yet to make her Top 10 debut. Now she is the top-ranked player and reigning Australian Open champion. Her goal is the finish her season as the year-end No.1. A deep run in Beijing would certainly help her fend off World No.2 Iga Swiatek.
"I feel like I have a lot of responsibility right now, being No.1," Sabalenka said. "I feel like [I'm] kind of representing the tour.
"Honestly, it's something new for me and I'm still just trying to understand if it's actually changing anything."
If her rise to the top doesn't actually change anything then it would be natural to expect Sabalenka to be in the thick of things come championship weekend in Beijing. Her best result came in 2018 with a run to the quarterfinals.
An added challenge this year will be shaking off the hangover effect of her three-set loss to Coco Gauff in New York. Now with distance and perspective on that performance, Sabalenka chalked it up to letting her emotions get the better of her. She also rued her inability to close out points at the net.
The former doubles No.1 vowed to change that.
"We worked a lot on my volley game," Sabalenka said.
"It's not like I don't know how to play volleys. I used to play doubles a lot. Just to be brave to go there. We worked a lot after US Open on that."