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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Sunday May 9, 2021

 
Aryna Sabalenka

After her title in Madrid, Aryna Sabalenka is looking like one of the players to beat on the red clay.

Photo Source: Madrid Open

She may not be the queen of clay – yet – but Aryna Sabalenka is clearly a vastly improved player on the slowest surface. The Belarusian claimed her first career title (from 10 total titles) on the surface on Saturday, taking out World No.1 Ashleigh Barty 6-0, 3-6, 6-4, and after the final she talked about her evolution from an average clay-court player (she entered 2021 with a 15-13 lifetime record on the surface) to an exceptional one.

Tennis Express

The key? Not being afraid of the surface.

“I would say before I was too much thinking about the clay court, that this is surface not for me, that it's really tough to play on this surface, it's long rallies,” Sabalenka told Tennis Now in her post-match Zoom press conference. “I was really too much thinking about this.”

Sabalenka says that in 2021 she has learned to relax. She also said that it has helped that her movement has steadily improved on all surfaces.

“This year I kind of relaxed and kind of just play my game,” she said. “I worked a lot on the movement, so I prepare myself really well for the clay court. Yeah, I just stay aggressive. This is just a little bit longer rallies here on the clay court than on the hard court. This is different. I just have to put, like, extra few balls in the court like more than on the hard court. This is the difference.”

Sabalenka will now head to the Rome, where she is slated to square off wth Barty again, if both players can reach the quarterfinals.

“My focus is just on my game, that I have to stay aggressive, that I have to move well on the clay court, make sure I can hit these shots really clean, heavy shots,” she said. “Yeah, just something change in my mind for the clay court for this year. I'm not really scared of this surface any more.”

One of the Favorites at Roland Garros

After the final she seemed reluctant to discuss her chances at the upcoming clay-court major. The 23-year-old has participated in 13 main draws at the Grand Slams and has still yet to reach a quarterfinal.

She hopes that can change in Paris, and knows that if she can produce the level she has delivered in the last few weeks on the clay, it will.

“I think everyone can win a Grand Slam,” she said. “You just have to bring your level and be there. It's tough question. I don't know, it could be Grand Slam or not. On the Grand Slams, it's a little bit different. If I can stay on this level on the Grand Slams, like mentally be really tough there, as I was here, maybe I can win a Grand Slam this year. Yeah, of course this is what I really want. Yeah, I will do everything I can on the Grand Slam to bring this level there and to compete there as I did here.”

 

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