NEW YORK, NY, USA - Aryna Sabalenka lets out nervous laughter throughout her first US Open press conference on Tuesday. Set in a small cubicle, the Top 20 debutante fielded questions about her impressive summer, which culminated with a maiden WTA title at the Connecticut Open presented by United Technologies.
"Before the match, I was feeling pretty good, like I could keep up this level," she sighed after outlasting Miami Open semifinalist Danielle Collins to win a sixth straight match - and 12th of her last 14. "After, I started asking myself, ‘What was this tennis today? It wasn’t the best.’"
Battling through Extreme Heat Rule, Sabalenka blasted through the opening set only to recover from a break down in the third and close out the in-form American, 6-0, 4-6, 6-4.
"I really have to refocus on my game because if you start to think you can do everything, your game will start to get away from you. I don’t want to be too much into myself, so I have to keep working. I’m feeling more comfortable on court after a few good matches, but if it gets too much, it can stop you."
The 20-year-old had clearly learned her lessons from earlier this summer, struggling with the pressure of making her first Premier final at the Aegon International in Eastbourne as she lost three straight matches heading into Montréal.
"I have to believe in myself," she clarified, and then gestured, "but more quietly. This is how it works."
Still, Sabalenka admitted to dealing with doubt between New Haven and the US Open, anticipating how she might translate this pre-Grand Slam déjà vu into success at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
"Straight after the final, I started to think about the US Open. My first thought was that if I made the final, I wouldn’t have enough power for the US Open.
"Then I started thinking that I need to care of myself, save some energy. I haven’t had much time to enjoy it, but it’s ok. This is our life. It’s in the past, and if you start to think too much about your past titles, the future becomes more of a question for you."
Her present profile earned her a Court 5 assignment to play Collins. Located at the epicenter of outer courts, fans constantly filter in and out of smaller courts on either side - a microcosm of the city itself - but the Belarusian didn't mind the hectic atmosphere.
"I actually like when someone is watching us. I was so happy that the stadium had a lot of people coming to watch me. I didn’t care about where they were standing, and if someone’s supporting me, that’s great, too."
For all of Sabalenka's growing supporters, the youngster remains her own biggest critic, frequently quoting her inner monologue as she thinks through each response aloud.
"Everything is the same," she said of the locker room reception from other players. "The players are treating me like normal, like nothing has changed.I like this, because if they started treating me differently, it would make me wonder, ‘What’s going on?’ But they’ve been the same, like always. I won a title, but I’m the same person. Why do I have to be something different?
"If they start to treat me differently, it’ll be more pressure on me, like, 'Do they expect me to do something unbelievable?' So they're nice with me, or at least, I hope so.
"I try to be nice, and act not so much...in love with myself," she ends with a shrug and a smile.
Sabalenka faces 2010 finalist and former World No.2 Vera Zvonareva in the second round on Thursday.