New Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka didn’t get much sleep on Saturday night after an exuberant victory, but you wouldn’t have known it early the next morning.
“I still feel like I’m on another planet trying to figure out what just happened,” Sabalenka replied to an AFP question as he reveled in a session photo in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.
Resplendent in a glamorous pink dress and wearing high heels instead of her usual tennis court shoes, Sabalenka took a boat and glided around a lake with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup clutched firmly in her hand.
The powerful Belarusian, who will become world number two on Monday, showed a new side to her personality, posing effortlessly for the cameras.
She even landed a few high kicks, despite her understandable stiffness after being taken to a grueling three sets less than 12 hours earlier by Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.
“How do you still manage to do that?” he was asked.
“I have no idea,” Sabalenka laughed slightly grimacing but exuberantly, before opening a bottle of champagne and spraying it in celebration at Formula 1.
“I love posing. Especially when you’re a champion,” she laughed, when asked if she appreciated the trappings that come with being a big winner.
“I think it’s the best morning of my life. It’s so beautiful.”
Getting serenely photographed by the world’s media at one of Melbourne’s most scenic locations was a scene Sabalenka could hardly have imagined 12 months earlier.
Her serve was in pieces, leaving her in tears as her confidence was shredded under attacks of debilitating nerves.
Now Sabalenka is enjoying the thrill of becoming a Grand Slam champion at the age of 24 – and finally conquering her inner demons.
– ‘It’s just too crazy’ –
Never was this new mental steel better exemplified than under the glare of the lights at Rod Laver Arena on Saturday night, where Sabalenka lost her first set of 2023 but clawed her way back to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
She needed four match points to serve and clear the final hurdle, a double fault costing her one of them as the tension grew almost unbearable.
But this new version of Sabalenka keeps calm and continues where the old one would have withered.
“I always think about the game, some points and especially the last game,” Sabalenka said of her first Grand Slam final.
“But it’s too crazy, there are so many thoughts in my head and I’m just trying to relax for a second.”
Saturday night’s victory party must have been good – a few team members were missing on Sunday morning.
“It was a funny night, everyone was so happy, so some of us didn’t make it today, it was too much last night,” laughed Sabalenka.
So what now for the Belarusian, who will be a woman marked and viewed very differently when she next arrives on the circuit as the reigning Grand Slam champion?
“Yeah, it’s going to be different,” she admitted, and said she would need time off before returning to the WTA Tour in the Middle East next month.
“I think I will only play in Dubai (from February 19) because I need time to rest, just to calm down from everything that happened and start over.”