Aryna Sabalenka has recalled her ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ moment as she fought to save the relationship that ultimately made her career – and made a splash as she posed with her one-of-a-kind trophy on the shores of the Yarra River after taking out the Australian Open.
Sabalenka jubilantly declared her stirring final triumph over Elena Rybakina the best day of her life, having returned from the depths of despair to finally claim her maiden grand slam singles crown on Saturday night.
On Sunday she celebrated in fine style, unleashing a spray of champagne in a stunning pink dress after disembarking from a gondola on the famous Melbourne waterway.
It was only 10 months ago, while grappling with self doubts and gripped by her infamous serving yips, that the Belarusian’s trusted coach Anton Dubrov tried to walk away.
But Sabalenka insisted: ‘No, it’s not you. We just have to work through these tough moments and we’ll come back stronger.’
‘It was after Dubai happened. He just said like, “I don’t know what to do. I think you need to find someone else who’s going to help you”.
Sabalenka cut a striking figure as she posed with her women’s singles trophy on the banks of Melbourne’s Yarra River on Sunday
The Belarusian’s trophy differed from that of every Australian Open champion before her because her home country is missing from the spot next to her name
‘But I knew that it’s not about him. It’s just something about me. I just have to figure out the problem. We have to get through it.’
And get through it they did.
After coughing up some 56 double faults and crashing out in the fourth round of last year’s Australian Open, a desperate Sabalenka turned to a psychologist and biomechanic – and the stunning transformation is now complete.
Tennis’s most unfulfilled talent is a major winner at last.
‘I’m really happy that we keep working together. We went through so many things together,’ the 24-year-old said as she savoured Saturday night’s 4-6 6-3 6-4 victory over Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.
‘It’s even sweeter that we get it together as a team. It was a long journey for us. We are here with the grand slam title, which is really amazing.
‘Nothing comes easily.’
The road to her first grand slam win was a tough one for the 24-year-old, who had to rebuild herself after a series of disappointing results
Self-belief and learning to remain calm on court were big building blocks for the tennis star
Being banned from competing at Wimbledon last year because of the invasion of Ukraine was enough ‘really tough’ moments for Sabalenka.
But she returned to grand slam tennis at the US Open with new-found belief, drawing only positives from a tight three-set semi-final loss to world No.1 Iga Swiatek in New York – her third tumble at the last four of a major.
‘I learned that I have to be a little bit calmer on court and I don’t have to rush things,’ Sabalenka said.
‘I just have to play my game, be calm, and believe in myself, that I can actually get it.
‘These two weeks I really was super calm on court, and I really believed in myself a lot, that my game will give me a lot of opportunities in each game to win this title.’
Before, Sabalenka never truly believed she belonged.
‘I always had this weird feeling when people would come to me and ask for signature,’ she said.
When her coach Anton Dubrov told her she should find someone else to help take her game to the next level, she refused to let him leave – and reaped the benefits in Melbourne
‘I would be like, ‘Why are you asking for signature? I’m nobody. I don’t have a grand slam’ and all this stuff.
‘But I just changed how I feel. Like, I started to respect myself more. I started to understand that actually I’m here because I work so hard and I’m actually good player.
‘Just having this understanding that I’m a good player, I can handle a lot of emotions, a lot of things on court.
‘Every time I had a tough moment on court, I was just reminding myself that I’m good enough to handle all this, just everything.’
Sabalenka will return to an equal-career-high No.2 in the world on Monday, with the top ranking and more major spoils in her sights.
‘We all have the kind of the same goals,’ she said.
‘Winning a grand slam, of course. It’s not the last one on my list.’