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March 1, 2021

Aryna Sabalenka

Doha, Qatar

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. Defending champion in Doha. How different is it? Because last time you were not a favorite. This time, defending champion, is there a lot of pressure? How different is it from last year to this year?

ARYNA SABALENKA: Well, I don't feel any different. I came here for some great matches, for the great fight.

Yeah, I'm defending champion but still I feel there is nothing to lose, and, yeah, I'll just go for it and do everything I can. So it's not a big difference compared to last year.

Q. Your doubles ranking, No. 1. Has that changed your approach to your singles game? Does it have an impact on your singles game? Will it give you more confidence? How do you feel about the whole doubles thing now?

ARYNA SABALENKA: Well, of course I'm really happy to be No. 1 in doubles. This is, I would say, something unexpected, and at the same time it's really amazing and really great to be No. 1 (smiling).

But I still want to put more focus on singles, and that's why we make a decision with Elise to do not play doubles in the Grand Slams. We're still going to play Dubai, Miami, like big events, but yeah, in the Grand Slams we're gonna focus on singles and, yeah, just see what's gonna happen. And if it's not gonna work, I'll go back for doubles because I like playing doubles. You can work on a lot of things which gonna help you in singles, too. For example, serve, returning game, volleys, approach, there is a lot of things which can really help you in singles from doubles. So, yeah.

Q. I want to ask you about the Australian Open. When you look back at that, were you pleased with the way you played there, or do you see that as a missed opportunity? It looked at one stage as though you were going to beat Serena.

ARYNA SABALENKA: Well, honestly, I'm not sure that I can say that, but I felt like I missed my opportunity because I feel like if you are coming back from 1-4 and you're kind of feeling your game and you're there, you're fighting, you just have to take this opportunity.

I felt like mentally I was a little bit up and she was down. Yeah, and also on the first set I didn't take my serve. Same situation in the third set.

I would say it was like not really smart mistakes from me. Yeah, but it was good experience. Because I never played against these kind of champions like Serena.

And going on the court, I was kind of like thinking what's gonna happen, how she's playing, what her power and all this stuff. Then I step in on the court and I understand, like, wow, actually I can play her, I can beat her. Yeah, only because of this mentality going on the court I think this was a little bit what I missed in the first set and in the third set.

Yeah, I would say, yeah, I missed my opportunity. Definitely I had it. And, yeah.

Q. So do you think if you played her again in a Grand Slam you would have a different approach? You'd have a different mental approach to it?

ARYNA SABALENKA: Yeah. I can guarantee that my mindset will be different going on the court. I don't know what gonna happen on the court, but I know that my mindset will be much stronger than I had it last time.

So this is the only thing what I can guarantee you (smiling). Tennis-wise, like, you never know what's gonna happen.

Q. I wanted to ask you, what was the difference in the impression of playing Serena and actually playing her?

ARYNA SABALENKA: Well, you know, because everyone keep talking about Serena, Serena is coming back, like she's the queen and all this stuff. This is kind of I know in experience, you know, because I never play her and I didn't know what to expect from her.

And to be honest, for the last few years, I haven't been watching her matches, like really sitting there and watching what she's doing and anything about her.

So, yeah, this is what I'm saying, like, it was different. Now I know what to expect from her and now I know where is her level. Yeah, I think, yeah, it will be different next time.

Q. I also wanted to ask you about Doha. The last time you played here was in February which was earlier in the year. It's later now. I'm just wondering what the conditions are like and how it plays? Do you feel comfortable in it? Can you just talk about the conditions, fast or slow?

ARYNA SABALENKA: Well, I'm really happy to be here. It's actually my favorite place to play. Yeah, the conditions are still the same.

It's a little bit windy. It's cool weather. It's great courts. Yeah, the conditions are pretty good I would say like with last year. And I'm really, really happy to be here and have this opportunity to compete here again.

Q. Moving on from what you were asked about with regard to Serena, obviously you were close to that win and a breakthrough result at a Grand Slam tournament. You have had some fantastic results on the tour, and the Grand Slams are I guess the next level you're trying to break? Is that the reason for the doubles decision? And do you have in your mind an idea of what you need to do to transfer what you're doing on the tour events to the Grand Slams?

ARYNA SABALENKA: Yeah, this is actually what we are kind of thinking with my team, and that's why we are trying to stop playing doubles on the Grand Slams and we're trying to play less tournament the week before the Grand Slam to make sure I can prepare myself better.

And, yeah, this is something what we are working on, like, trying to bring my level on the Grand Slams, yeah, and to go far in the Grand Slams. So, yeah, exactly, this is what we are working on.

Q. On the Grand Slams, can I ask you about the next Grand Slam, the French Open. Do you like playing on clay? Do you think it's a surface you can do well on? Particularly as you're only going to be focusing on singles, do you think you have a big chance there?

ARYNA SABALENKA: Well, you know, like since I was young, everyone was keep saying to me, Clay court is not your surface, you're not going to play well there, you have to focus on the hard court and maybe on the grass.

But this is just a bad mentality of my, I would say of the coaches from Belarus. But what I feel actually that I really like to play on the clay court. I have more time there. And, how to say, physically I can handle it. I'm strong and I can move, I can hit the ball, I can stay in the points. This is nothing about the clay court.

I feel like I have a chance, I have chance there, for sure, like everywhere. Yeah, and I will go there and I will do everything I can to show people that, Listen, I can play on the clay court (smiling).

Q. You just mentioned about how you were told when you were younger that you're not going to be able to play on clay court, that sort of thing. I have heard from different people that just generally people have told you what they thought your game was and what it was not when you were growing up. So how much has your game changed now compared to what you were told your game was when you were younger?

ARYNA SABALENKA: Listen, oh, I improved a lot, I changed a lot, and I also changed my mindset. Like basically what they were saying to me is like, Your game is stupid. You just have to close your eyes and hit the ball. That's it.

But for now, yeah, I still hit the ball, but I feel like there is some thoughts behind the hitting the ball. So, you know, like I kind of feeling the game. I have a good touch, which before people were saying, like, She's just can't hit the ball.

Yeah, I feel the court. I feel the game. I'm not this kind of player who just closing their eyes and hitting the ball.

So, yeah, I improved a lot since, I don't know, since what age, like, since 15 years old, I think. I have been working a lot on my game (smiling). So, yeah.

Q. How far off do you feel? Like how much do you feel like there is still room for improvement in your game?

ARYNA SABALENKA: There is still a lot things.

Q. Because of the tactical stuff and things you're still learning?

ARYNA SABALENKA: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, there is technically I need to improve a lot. Like my technique, my movement, my shots, like, variation of the shot, there is still a lot of things to improve.

But if I'm comparing myself to 15-years-old girl, yeah, I would say I improved a lot and I changed a lot. But there is still a lot of things to improve, which is good.

Q. Does it give you motivation? Do you ever use what coaches or what people were telling you about your game back in the day...

ARYNA SABALENKA: It was good motivation for me. I was like, Listen, guys. I'm going to show you that you're wrong. Yeah, it was good motivation for me before.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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