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Hard-working Sabalenka ready for Australian Open defence

Aryna Sabalenka said Friday she felt “really great” heading into the defence of her Australian Open title, with a hard grind during the pre-season making her “as ready as I can be”.

The 25-year-old Belarusian had a breakthrough 2023 in which she claimed a maiden Grand Slam title in Melbourne, beating Elena Rybakina in the final.

She also finished runner-up at the US Open and made the semi-finals of Wimbledon and Roland Garros on her way to becoming world number one.

She was the first woman since Serena Williams in 2016 to reach at least the semi-finals of all four Grand Slams in a calendar year.

Currently ranked number two behind Poland’s Iga Swiatek, Sabalenka said she was in good shape mentally and physically.

“I had an incredible season last year, improved a lot as a player and as a person. I did really a great pre-season. We worked a lot. I felt like we improved a lot,” she said.

“I feel really great and feel like I’m ready to go.”

The bubbly Sabalenka began her season at the Brisbane International, in ominous touch until Rybakina outplayed her in the final. 

But she was undeterred by the loss.

“Elena just played incredible tennis. She just crushed it,” she said. 

“Before the final, I think I played really great tennis. Everything worked on the pre-season…. that’s what we are happy with. 

“After the finals, was another week to work on those mistakes and prepare myself as good as I can for Melbourne.”

Bidding to become the first woman to win consecutive Australian Opens since countrywoman Victoria Azarenka in 2012 and 2013, Sabalenka credited hard work for her success.

“I find working hard is actually a lot of fun. I enjoy it,” she said. 

“For me, that’s not really tough to keep working hard, keep improving myself. I’ve been doing it my whole life.”

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