New Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka didn’t get much sleep on Saturday night after a heady come-from-behind victory, but you wouldn’t have known it the next morning.
“I still feel like I’m on another planet trying to understand what just happened,” Sabalenka replied to a question from AFP as she enjoyed a photo shoot at Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens.
Dazzling in a glamorous pink dress and wearing high heels instead of her usual tennis pumps, Sabalenka boarded a boat and glided around a lake with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup firmly in her hand.
The mighty Belarusian, who will become number two in the world on Monday, showed a new side of her personality by posing effortlessly for the cameras.
She even managed a few high kicks, despite being understandably stiff after being taken to three grueling sets by Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina less than 12 hours earlier.
“How do you still manage to do that?” she was asked.
“I have no idea,” laughed a slightly shuddering but exuberant Sabalenka, before cracking open a bottle of champagne and spraying it festively, Formula 1 style.
“I like to pose. Especially if you’re a champion,” she chuckled when asked if she enjoyed the trappings that come with being a big winner.
“I think it’s the best morning of my life. It’s so beautiful.”
Being serenely photographed by the world’s media in one of Melbourne’s most picturesque 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 by bouts of debilitating nerves.
Now Sabalenka is enjoying the feeling of becoming a Grand Slam champion at the age of 24 — and finally conquering her inner demons.
– ‘It’s just crazy’ –
Never was that new mental steel better illustrated than under the glare of the lights of the Rod Laver Arena on Saturday night, where Sabalenka dropped her first set of 2023, but fought her way back to go 4-6, 6-3, 6 -4 to win.
She needed four match points to serve out and clear the final hurdle, a double fault costing one of them as the tension became almost unbearable.
But this new version of Sabalenka remains calm and carries on where the old one would have withered.
“I always think about the game about some points and especially the last game,” Sabalenka said of what was her first Grand Slam final.
“But it’s just crazy, there are so many thoughts in my head and I’m just trying to relax.”
Saturday night’s victory celebration must have been good — a few team members were missing on Sunday morning.
“It was a funny night, everyone was just too happy, so some of us didn’t make it today, it was too much last night,” Sabalenka laughed.
So what next for the Belarusian, who will be a standout woman and be regarded very differently when she next takes to the track as reigning Grand Slam champion?
“Yes, it will be different,” she admitted, saying she would need some time off before returning to the Middle East WTA circuit next month.
“I think I will only play in Dubai (from February 19), because I need some time to rest, just to calm down from everything that happened and start again.”