Aryna Sabalenka sympathises with young first-time Grand Slam winners, says she would ‘struggle for years’


Aryna Sabalenka says she sympathises with young first-time Grand Slam winners and would have been “struggling for years” if she had lifted her first major as a teenager.

Sabalenka had lost in three Grand Slam semi-finals before winning the Australian Open at the age of 24 earlier this year.

There have been several younger first-time Grand Slam champions over the past few years.

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Emma Raducanu won the 2021 US Open as an 18-year-old, two years after Bianca Andreescu had lifted the same trophy at the age of 19.

Sofia Kenin was 21 when she won the 2020 Australian Open.

All three players have struggled with various issues since winning their maiden Grand Slam and none have managed to repeat their successes and win another big title.

“I’m really glad that I won my first Grand Slam at this age,” said Sabalenka after beating Barbora Krejkicova to reach the Indian Wells quarter-finals.

“Because I felt like if I would be 18 years old to win the Grand Slam, then I would be struggling for years.

“I kind of understand that, yeah, that’s happened and that was my dream. It was an amazing moment, but time to move on. It’s another tournament, it wasn’t the only one goal.

“So that’s why, for me, it was not easy, but I have this understanding that no matter what, I have to keep going, keep fighting, and keep showing my best tennis if I want to keep winning. So for me it wasn’t that tough.”

Asked whether she sympathises with younger first-time Slam winners who have struggled with expectations, Sabalenka added:That’s really tough, but I think they have to go through it to – they just have to go through it. Nothing is going to be easy.

“Yeah, they won their first Grand Slam, which is amazing. They showed their best there. I think they have to go through, not a lot of, but they have to go through some tough period to understand no matter what they have to keep fighting. Nobody is going to give it easily to them, so they have to work for it.

“I think that’s just a process. Anyway, they will figure out later.”

Sabalenka’s only defeat this season has been against Krejcikova in Dubai, but she avenged that result with a hard-fought win to make the Indian Wells quarters for the first time.

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The world No. 2 says she is motivated in chasing down Iga Swiatek at the top of the rankings.

“Of course, I want to be No. 1. Of course, I want to win more Grand Slams, which is normal. I think every one of us, everyone wants to do that.

“Probably that’s why it’s helped me to stay focused and helped me to keep working and just keep doing my best every day.”

Sabalenka next faces sixth seed Coco Gauff, who came through a tough three-set match with qualifier Rebecca Peterson.

Asked whether she is playing with more confidence right now, Sabalenka responded: “I don’t like this word ‘confidence’. I prefer to say I have a little bit more belief in myself.

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“That’s why I don’t think about anything else. I just have this belief, and I’m just doing my best on court.

“Focusing on my game, focusing on bringing the best tennis on court every time I’m on the court.”

On meeting Gauff, she added: “We always had tough matches, great battles, she’s a great player.

“I’m going to do my best to do good recovery, make sure that I prepare myself as good as I can for that match, because it’s going to be a great battle.”

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