Australian Open 2019: Aryna Sabalenka’s Time to Shine

Margins are a frustrating concept sometimes, especially for Aryna Sabalenka at the US Open 2018. In a tense/close 4th round match, Sabalenka out-performed eventual champion Naomi Osaka 27-18, in terms of winners hit. However, a 37-34 difference in unforced errors meant that the Belorussian Sabalenka let her Japanese opponent in.

Aryna Sabalenka Gave Naomi Osaka the Sternest Test at US Open 2018

It could easily have been Sabalenka standing the other side of the net to Serena Williams in that infamous final. At 20 years old, Aryna Sabalenka will have her time in a Slam, or more likely, in Slams. The 2019 Australian Open could be the making of the potent baseliner, Aryna Sabalenka. Osaka seemed to be struggling to put the match to bed in the third set. Ultimately, it was a double-fault from Sabalenka that handed her the match. Sabalenka will have learnt from this and will not want to hand-out anymore victories.

Australian Open 2019 is Sabalenka’s Chance to Right US Open Wrong

Aryna Sabalenka did not do herself justice at Flushing Meadows. The Osaka match was within her grasp, once she forced the third set. Melbourne is Sabalenka’s chance to right this US Open wrong. She is definitely worthy of 2nd shot at Naomi Osaka. Sabalenka and coach Dmitry Tursunov will no doubt be focusing on pressure points and cutting out errors ahead of the Australian Open.

Sabalenka needs to retain the ruthlessness she showed winning the title in Shenzhen this season. She also got revenge over Maria Sharapova for a loss in the Tianjin final 2017.

Aryna Sabalenka, the Potential Game-Changer

Ahead of the US Open 2018, it would have been difficult to put Osaka ahead of Sabalenka in any future star list. The comments of Tursunov post Wuhan 2018 are no doubt shared by many:

“She [Sabalenka] could be the person that changes the game the way that Serena changed the game.“

Many eyes will be on Sabalenka in Melbourne Park, as expectation inevitably grows.

Sabalenka Possesses Surface Versatility

One of the features of Sablenka’s hard-hitting baseline game is that it seems to be effective on all surfaces. This gives her an edge over Osaka, who has yet to show much on grass. Sabalenka’s surface versatility was displayed last year by virtue of a Premier level victory at Wuhan, a Premier Level final at Eastbourne grass and a final appearance on clay in Lugano. We have yet to see the best of Sabalenka on clay, but this season should see her shine and have a shot at the French Open. Her confidence will grow if she goes into that Slam as Australian Open Champion.

Shenzhen Champion needs to Acclimate to the Heat

Courtesy of a tournament win in Shenzhen already this season, Sabalenka heads to Melbourne with 5-1 win/loss record for the season. A recent loss to Petra Kvitova in Sydney saw Sabalenka struggle to acclimate to the heat from her time in chilly Shenzhen. There is no such thing as a good loss, but before the US Open Sabalenka had a grueling week in New Haven. As a result she struggled in the first round.

She now has time practice in the Melbourne heat and work on improving her first serve percentage. Against Kvitova it dropped to 53%, her lowest of the fledgling season. Perhaps more disconcerting was the fact that Kvitova’s first serve percent was only 55%. Sabalenka would normally punish that by attacking the second serves. Sabalenka and Tursunov won’t dwell too much on that fact that Kvitova avenged her 2018 US Open loss to Sabalenka. If anything, it is good to get grounded before a Slam, allowing for some necessary re-focusing.

Sabalenka Needs to use Slam Expectation as Impetus

There is a growing list of players–including Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, Madison Keys, and Caroline Garcia–who have failed so far to turn undoubted talent into Slam success. The weight of pressure seems to wear them down when they reach Slam time. Sabalenka has it within her to tap into the psyche of the likes of Graf and Serena Williams, to use expectation to galvanize yourself on the big occasion. Expectation, in a nutshell, is simply recognition of talent. Sabalenka is well enough grounded, even at just 20 years of age, to use this expectation in Melbourne.


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