Sabalenka hails team for adding madness to her method after AO triumph

Sabalenka hails team for adding madness to her method after AO triumph

MELBOURNE — Aryna Sabalenka won her second Australian Open (AO) title in emphatic style on Saturday and hailed her team of coaches for making life a little “crazy” off the court to ease the pressure that comes with elite level tennis.

The Belarusian became the first woman since her compatriot Victoria Azarenka in 2013 to retain the title after pummelling China’s Zheng Qinwen 6-3 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena to win her second major crown.

The manner of her romp to the title without giving up a set will send out a warning to her rivals that the days when her on-court meltdowns threatened to undermine her undoubted talent are long gone.

Her relaxed attitude has been reflected in her new pre-match ritual at this event — signing the bald head of her performance coach in marker pen — while warm-up routines now involve balloons and coordinated dances.

“I think it’s all about having fun and enjoying the process. We always doing a lot of crazy stuff with the team,” Ms. Sabalenka told reporters.

“I don’t know. It’s helped me to stay focused on court. You know, because there’s enough pressure on the court, and off the court we’re just trying to keep it simple, keep it fun and make sure that all of us enjoy the process.”

Ms. Sabalenka jokingly put the blame on her team after she was thrashed in the Brisbane final three weeks ago.

Having become ruthlessly effective in Melbourne, she said she was happy to be a different person on and off the court.

“Because if I would be the same person that I’m on the court off the court, I think I wouldn’t have my team around me,” the 25-year-old said with a smile. “I think I would be alone.

“Yeah, it takes me so much time to become who I am right now on court, to have this control over myself, and to understand myself better.

“It’s been a long journey … I just said it like I’m going to retire after today. But no, too early. Can still do something else.”

Ms. Sabalenka, who briefly took the world number one ranking from Iga Swiatek last year, said having two Grand Slam titles would only boost her confidence now. “I just have this knowing that all my life it wasn’t, like, wasting of time and I was doing the right thing,” she said. I’m where I’m meant to be, so that’s really important.”

One of Ms. Sabalenka’s first calls after winning the title was to her family and she joked that a minor argument had already broken out.

“I spoke to my mom and there’s already a fight about where the trophy is going,” Ms. Sabalenka said with a laugh. — Reuters