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Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Friday, September 29, 2024

Ascending to the pinnacle of the sport, Aryna Sabalenka has no desire to press pause. 

The new world No. 1 sees the top spot as a launching pad rather than a destination.

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Meeting the media in Beijing, Sabalenka said she's spent her time at the top sharpening her closing skills.

The Australian Open champion's No. 1 priority is closing the 2023 season as year-end No. 1.

"Yes, I'm a world No. 1 right now, but it's not just about become world No. 1, I think it's about finish the year as world No. 1 and stay there as long as you can," Sabalenka told the media in Beijing. "It was good that I was able to achieve this goal, but there is another goal. I'm super motivated right now.

"The expectation here in Beijing is to bring my best tennis and do everything I can on court."

The top-seeded Belarusian faces a tough China Open opener against 2021 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin. Sabalenka has won two of their three encounters, but the 31st-ranked Kenin won their most recent meeting, 7-6(4), 6-2, on the red clay of Rome last May.

Before arriving in Beijing, Sabalenka said she spent some time mourning her US Open final loss to Coco Gauff.

"I took couple of days off just to switch off and forgot about tennis because it was a really tough, tough loss for me," Sabalenka said of the US Open. "It was super emotional.

"Yeah, took couple of days off, then I start working again."

Initially, the work was focusing on finishing forward.

Former Grand Slam doubles champion Sabalenka owns a solid volley and strong smash. Sabalenka's reluctance to impose her net game against the speedy Gauff cost her as the 19-year-old American repeatedly ran down would-be winners to extend points and eventually coax errors.

A dynamic Gauff bounced back from a jittery opening set, slashing through five straight games to seize the second set and snatch a 4-0 lead in the third en route to a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Sabalenka. That defeat compelled Sabalenka to hit the practice court and work on closing forward.

"My biggest takeaway [from the US Open final] was that I need to learn to finish the points on the net," Sabalenka said. "We worked a lot on my volley game. Yeah, overall, again, I got over-emotion there. I wasn't controlling myself. I was thinking all over the place in that second set.

"So, yeah, that's was the biggest takeaway. I have to, no matter what, stick to the plan and just do what I have to do on court, just kind of like shut down all those thoughts...

"I mean, it's not like I don't know how to play volleys. I used to play doubles a lot. Just to be brave to go there, you know? Yeah, we worked a lot after US Open on that."

Photo credit: Brad Penner/USTA/US Open