Aryna Sabalenka has lived up to a dream she shared with her father after sealing her second grand slam title on Saturday night, nearly five years after his death.
The 25-year-old superstar stormed to a second straight Australian Open triumph and banished fears that she would be a one-hit wonder.
But even more important than that was keeping a promise to the man who introduced her to tennis.
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Sabalenka’s relationship with her father Sergey, who died in 2019, featured in Netflix series Break Point where she revealed their “one dream” together: win two grand slam titles before she’s 25.
“Now I’m 24 and there is zero in my pocket,” she said.
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Just over a year later and Sabalenka has the two they wanted, celebrating the milestone with a kiss to the stars.
“He’s my biggest motivation. He’s been everything for me,” she said.
Sabalenka conceded, though, that her mindset around who she plays for has broadened since she took out her first major last year.
Sabalenka as a child with her father Sergey. Credit: Instagram
Achieving the goal she had with her father once was the singular driving factor but her living relatives are now at the forefront.
“Right now I have my mum and my sister, who is here with me, and I feel like I have to think about them,” Sabalenka said.
“I just feel that (my father) is always with me and I am very thankful for everything he did for me. I think if not (for) him I wouldn’t be here.
“Right now I’m playing for my mum and my sister and my grandmothers.”
Sabalenka recalled the dark times where her family kept her going amid a battle with the yips on serve.
“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 is watching me and very proud of me. So I just couldn’t stop for my family.”
Aryna Sabalenka holds aloft the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup for the second year in a row. Credit: Getty Images
Sabalenka also thanked her team and said she could never have won a grand slam without their unwavering support.
On a mission after losing last year’s US Open final from one set up, she became just the fifth woman this century to win the Australian Open without dropping a set.
“It’s been in my mind that I didn’t want to be that player who won it and then disappeared,” she said of capturing a second major.
“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