New Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka didn’t get much sleep Saturday night after a rambunctious come-from-behind victory, but you wouldn’t have known it early on the morning after.
“I still feel like I’m on another planet trying to understand what just happened,” Sabalenka replied to a question from AFP while revelling in a photo shoot at Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens.
Resplendent in a glamorous pink dress and wearing high heels instead of her usual tennis pumps, Sabalenka took to a boat and glided around a lake with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup clutched firmly in hand.
The powerful Belarusian, who became world number two on Monday, showed a new side to her personality, posing effortlessly in front of the cameras.
She even managed a few high kicks, despite being understandably stiff after being taken to three gruelling sets less than 12 hours earlier by Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.
“How are you still managing to do that?” she was asked.
“I have no idea,” a slightly wincing but ebullient Sabalenka laughed, before cracking open a bottle of champagne and spraying it in celebration, Formula One-style.
“I like to pose. Especially when you’re a champion,” she chuckled, when asked whether she was enjoying the trappings that come with being a major winner.
“I think it’s the best morning of my life. It’s so beautiful.”
Serenely being photographed by the world’s media at one of Melbourne’s most picturesque locations was a scene Sabalenka could have scarcely imagined 12 months earlier.
Her serve was in pieces, leaving her in tears as her confidence was shredded under attacks of debilitating nerves.
Now Sabalenka is enjoying the feeling of becoming a Grand Slam champion at the age of 24 -- and finally conquering her inner demons.
- ‘It’s just too crazy’ -
Never was that new mental steel better illustrated than under the glare of the Rod Laver Arena lights on Saturday night, where Sabalenka dropped her first set of 2023 but clawed her way back to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
She needed four match points to serve out and clear the final hurdle, a double fault costing one of them as the tension became almost unbearable.
But this new version of Sabalenka keeps calm and carries on where the old one would have wilted.
“I’m always thinking about the match about some points and especially the last game,” said Sabalenka about what was her maiden Grand Slam final.
“But it’s just too crazy, there’s so many thoughts in my head and I’m just trying to relax for a second.”
The Saturday night victory party must have been a good one -- there were a few team members missing on Sunday morning.
“It was a funny night, everyone was just too happy, so some of us didn’t make it today, it was too much last night,” Sabalenka laughed.
So what now for the Belarusian, who will be a marked woman and regarded very differently when she next hits the circuit as a reigning Grand Slam champion?
“Yeah, it’s going to be different,” she admitted, and said she would need some time off before returning to the WTA circuit in the Middle East next month.
“I think I’m going to play only Dubai (beginning February 19), because I need some time to rest, just to calm down from everything that has happened and start over again.”
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