Aryna Sabalenka is enjoying a sensational start to her season. The 22-year-old Belarusian, the fifth seed at the Mutua Madrid Open, is still yet to notch up a win in the Caja Mágica. But many things have changed since her last visit to the Madrid clay in 2019.
Now the only player who can boast of being a member of the Top 10 in both the singles and doubles rankings, Sabalenka arrives in the capital of tennis with some very good clay results under her belt. The Belarusian reached the final in Stuttgart a few days ago, beating Simona Halep, something of a specialist on the surface, in the semis, and only world number one Ashleigh Barty was able to halt her charge.
These credentials mean Sabalenka is able to tackle the Mutua Madrid Open with renewed energy. “I mean, last years I couldn’t do well here, even the court was a little bit faster”, explained the Belarusian. “But this year I feel a little bit better on the clay, a little bit different. Actually it feels really good playing here, especially when I practised yesterday in the stadium.”
“I’ll do my best here”, continued a Sabalenka who will take on Russian qualifier Vera Zvonareva in the first round. Their only previous encounter came in the second round of the 2018 US Open, when the Belarusian was victorious.
Currently enjoying her highest singles ranking (7), Sabalenka is motivated by two things in Madrid. First, the large stadiums like the Manolo Santana and the Arantxa Sánchez Vicario. “I like big stadiums. Doesn’t matter how they look. I feel good in them. A little bit more space, I feel free there”, she explained with a smile.
While she loves big stadiums, she is even happier if there are fans in them. “I actually didn’t know here there would be a crowd. I’m really happy to see people watching us, even our practice. It feels different”.
“I really like to play in front of the people. I’m looking forward to it. I’m really happy that people will watch us. That’s given me a lot more energy. It’s actually more enjoyable to play matches when people are watching you”.