A large pair of mirrored sunglasses couldn’t hide Aryna Sabalenka’s emotions after her crushing US Open semi-final loss.
Sabalenka saw a 4-2 lead in the third set disintegrate against top seed Iga Swiatek, who won 16 of the final 20 points to stamp her spot in the final against Ons Jabeur.
The 24-year-old arrived at her post-match press conference in glasses and a hat tucked low as she answered questions for several minutes, with her voice cracking at times.
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Sabalenka was asked if she was “proud” of this performance, compared to last year’s US Open semi-final, when she lost to Leylah Fernandez in three sets.
“Actually right now, I really don’t feel that way, but my team keeps telling me I have to be proud of myself for these last few months,” said Sabalenka, who as a Belarusian was banned from Wimbledon.
“I don’t feel that way, though. I feel in these three semi-finals (also including 2021 Wimbledon) I had opportunities and I didn’t use them, I guess. I am trying to think everything happens for a reason and I guess it make me really stronger. In the next semi-final, I will be much stronger as a player.”
Sabalenaka won the first set 6-3 before Swiatek responded with a dominant 6-1 second set. The No. 6 seed’s serve abandoned her in the final games, allowing Swiatek — a two-time French Open champion — to seize control of the match in a stunning final blitz.
Sabalenka held off the first with a forehand volley at the net, but her 44th unforced error on the next point sealed her fate.
To open her press conference, Sabalenka was asked how she was feeling.
“Not really good,” said Sabalenka, who credited Swiatek’s play in the “key moments” as the difference in the match.
Swiatek can cement her status as world number one on Sunday morning AEST when she faces history-chasing Jabeur in the US Open’s women’s final.
The Polish star would become the first woman in six years to win two different Grand Slams in the same season if she adds the US Open crown to the French Open title she collected in June.
Swiatek admitted before the US Open that she found the uniquely raucous atmosphere at Flushing Meadows a challenging environment.
But she has proven her adaptability over the past fortnight, twice recovering from being a set down to reach the final.
“When I was younger all I would do in the bathroom between sets after I lost was cry,” Swiatek revealed later.
“But this time I could think about what to change and actually problem solve.”
That mental durability is the result of her work with sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz over the past two years.
“Earlier in my career I felt like my emotions kind of were taking over and I was panicking a little bit when I was losing,” Swiatek said.
“I grew up. And the work we’ve put in with Daria for sure helped. Now it’s just easier for me to actually logically think what I can change,” she revealed.
Part of Swiatek’s mental approach has been to embrace her uncertainty with hardcourts.
“I trust myself for sure on clay,” she said.
“Here I just try to accept maybe that sometimes I’m not going to trust myself.
“It’s not something negative for me. I find it pretty motivating to try and get better.”
– with the NY Post and AFP