Aryna Sabalenka has apologised to Chinese tennis fans for beating Qinwen Zheng in to win the Australian Open.
China’s Zheng went down in straight sets to back-to-back champion Sabalenka, who didn’t drop a set for the entire tournament on her way to claiming her second major title
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Aryna Sabalenka apologises for winning the Australian Open.
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The sight of a helpless Zheng left millions of Chinese fans shattered watching from overseas, but they were comforted by an unlikely source when Sabalenka herself offered a message of support.
Sabalenka took to Chinese microblogging website Weibo to issue a video apology to Zheng’s fans on the night of her victory.
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“Hi guys, here I am with the trophy. I am so sorry, I know you all support Qinwen, I understand this,” Sabalenka said while holding the Australian Open trophy in the video.
“Anyway, thank you so much for all the support, I love playing in China, hopefully I will come back this year to China.
“Thank you so much and see you soon,” she concluded, blowing a kiss towards the camera.
Aryna Sabalenka holds the Australian Open trophy for the second-straight year. Credit: Robert Prange/Getty Images
A shattered but circumspect Zheng after the match gave credit to her opponent.
“Congrats to Aryna to have such a wonderful match here,” Zheng said.
“I didn’t perform my best. That’s a real pity for me, because I really want to show better than that.”
She lamented an early blip, losing her opening serve, and was then unable to take advantage of three break points to put the set back on serve.
“I think in this match I’m start pretty slow,” Zheng said.
“The difference is the beginning, I can’t hold the service game. Then later on, when I got the chance to break her 40-love up and I’m not able to make it.
“You know, that little moment makes the match so different.
“She’s a really aggressive player and if you let a chance go, it will happen like today.”
Despite her remorse, Sabalenka is hungry for more and hopes a second Australian Open title will serve as merely the appetiser before a feast of grand-slam spoils.
Sabalenka credits a new-found emotional equilibrium and a fun-loving entourage for helping transform the one-time temperamental under-achiever into potentially the dominant force in women’s tennis.
The two-time Australian Open winner has battled mental demons throughout her career, overcoming serving yips and several crushing semi-final defeats before reaching her maiden grand-slam decider only 12 months ago in Melbourne.
But after breaking through in 2023 and then becoming the first woman since fellow Belarusian Victoria Azarenka 11 years ago to defend their Open crown on Saturday, Sabalenka believes she’s at last cracked the code.
Four months after cameras captured the world No.2 smashing racquets in the locker-room after blowing a one-set lead in the US Open final against Coco Gauff, Sabalenka says an inner calm is now driving her.
“It’s all come with experience,” Sabalenka said.
“There is not going to be big wins without really tough losses. Of course I was very down after those matches. I was crying, I was smashing the racquet, as we see. I was really crazy.
“But then, after a day or two, we sit down with the team, thinking, ‘OK, what do we have to do to fix it and to make sure this will never happen again?’”
Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka hopes her second grand slam success will lead to many more. Credit: AAP
It’s been a lengthy process but now the only back-stage footage found of Sabalenka is of the mercurial star playing light-hearted games with coach Anton Dubrov and conditioner and mind guru Jason Stacy before entering the grand-slam cauldron.
“It’s actually good that I’m two different people on and off the court,” she said, explaining the ritual of signing her autograph on Stacy’s bald head after every win at Melbourne Park.
“Because if I would be the same person that I am on the court off the court, I think I wouldn’t have my team around me and I think I would be alone.
“It takes me so much time to become who I am right now on court, to have this control of myself and to understand myself better.”
Sabalenka had feared major titles may elude her.
“There was really a moment where I really didn’t believe that I’m going to win a slam one day, especially those periods when I was serving double faults and couldn’t fix my serve,” she said.
“There was a lot of up and downs.
“But I just couldn’t quit. I felt like I just have to keep doing what I’m doing. I just have to keep fighting for my dream and make sure that if there is something I want to believe and there is something that my father (late) is watching me and very proud of me.
“So I just couldn’t stop for my family.”
Now the Belarusian has joined greats Ash Barty (2022), Serena Williams (2017), Maria Sharapova (2008) and Lindsay Davenport (2000) as only the fifth woman this century to hoist the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup without dropping a set after shedding her one-slam wonder tag.
“It’s been in my mind that I didn’t want to be that player who win it and then disappeared,” Sabalenka said.
“I just wanted to show that I’m able to be consistently there and I’m able to win another one.
“I really hope for more than two right now.”
– With AAP