In the last tournament of the year on the WTA Tour, Aryna Sabalenka won the Linz Open in Austria, beating Elise Mertens, a good friend of hers, in straight-sets in the final. The first set was closely contested, but a late break sealed it for the Belarusian and that proved decisive. It was one way traffic in the second as Sabalenka completed a 7-5 6-2 victory to win the Linz Open for the first time and end the season on a high note.
Her win was enough to take her back into the top ten, with Sabalenka set to end the year as world #10, having displaced the great Serena Williams. It marks the first time that Sabalenka has ended the year ranked inside the world’s top ten after she finished 2018 and 2019 ranked 11th. She will now no doubt be eager to press on in 2021 and rise further up the rankings, with a push for the top five not out of the question for a player of her talents.
She will certainly be in with a chance of achieving that if she can maintain her late-season form into the early weeks of next season. Sabalenka ends this campaign having won three titles, in Qatar, Ostrava and Linz, with her latter triumphs coming in back-to-back events.
But although she has compiled an impressive resume for such a young player, with her three titles this year adding to successes at the Connecticut Open and Wuhan Open in 2018 and the Shenzhen Open, Wuhan Open, and WTA Elite Trophy in 2019, she has not yet managed to translate her success on the regular tour into a triumph on the biggest stage.
Her best result so far at a Major is her run to the fourth round at the US Open in 2018 and she has rather flattered to deceive since. Her best effort in 2020 was reaching the third round at the French Open, where she crashed out at the hands of Ons Jabeur. Her performances in Melbourne, where she lost in the first round, and New York, where she made a second-round exit, were more disappointing still and the pressure will be growing for her to deliver a deep run at a Grand Slam.
Clearly then, she needs to improve both her game and her mindset when playing at the Grand Slams. Whilst she almost certainly has the raw talent to win a Grand Slam, that alone will not be enough for her to get over the line. Instead, Sabalenka must find a way to cope with the pressure and play consistent tennis for two weeks. Could 2021 be the year that she finally breaks through? If her form in Ostrava and Linz is anything to go by, she certainly has a chance but only time will tell.
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