INDIAN WELLS – Aryna Sabalenka said her Australian Open triumph has helped tame the nerves that had undermined her in the past, and has infused her with a self-belief she harnessed to devastating effect on Wednesday when she routed Coco Gauff at Indian Wells.
The Belarusian’s most potent weapon – her punishing serve – became her biggest liability in 2022 when she made a WTA-leading 428 double faults. At one point, she even resorted to an underarm serve.
But she had no problem in Wednesday’s quarter-final, committing zero double faults while winning 86.7 per cent of her first serves to dispatch Gauff 6-4, 6-0 in just over an hour.
“I feel a little bit different on the court this year. I feel like I’m a little bit a different player,” Sabalenka said.
“Because before, I didn’t have a Slam, and every time I felt so much pressure from myself because I really wanted to get it. And I would lose really close matches just because I really wanted it. I would miss so many easy shots.
“Right now, it’s given me more belief and understanding what I have to do on those important matches.”
The world No. 2 added that her Australian Open success has also allowed her to maintain a positive mindset when things go wrong in matches.
“I’m more calm on court, and I’m able to control my emotions, which help me to stay in the game no matter what,” she said.
“Fight for every point, without losing my mind and without giving easy points to opponents.”
She will next face Greek Maria Sakkari – who beat Czech Petra Kvitova 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 – for a spot in the final.
Gauff is set to make her small screen debut as a guest star on an episode of the All American: Homecoming young adult sports drama, but the 19-year-old said she has no plans to swop tennis for television. “We did it in December during the off-season,” she said.
“I don’t know if I’ll do it again. It was like all day and I didn’t realise how many times you have to do a scene over and over again. Drills in tennis are repetitive, but I think that’s even more repetitive.”
In the men’s draw, Daniil Medvedev brushed off a sore right ankle as he beat Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-3, 7-5 to reach the semi-finals.
The Russian showed little ill effect from the twisted ankle he suffered in a three-set battle against Alexander Zverev a day earlier as he pushed his ATP match-winning streak to 18.
“I’m actually happy the ankle didn’t hurt much because when I warmed up, it was hurting pretty bad,” he said.
“I couldn’t move well... I tried to warm it up as long as possible and take one painkiller so that probably helped and I was actually feeling better and better during the match.”
Medvedev booked a last-four clash with American Frances Tiafoe, who beat 2021 Indian Wells winner Cameron Norrie 6-4, 6-4. REUTERS, AFP