Aryna Sabalenka is hungry for more and hopes a second Australian Open title serves 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 now 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 after dispatching China’s first-time grand-slam finalist Zheng Qinwen 6-3 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena.
“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?'”
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.”