Sabalenka starts 2019 season with Shenzhen Open title

Hannah Wilks in WTA 5 Jan 2019
  • Aryna Sabalenka defeated Alison Riske to win the Shenzhen Open
  • World no. 13 Sabalenka was one of the most impressive players of 2018
Aryna Sabalenka holds the Shenzhen Open trophy (Shenzhen Open Facebook page)

Aryna Sabalenka starts her 2019 season with a WTA Tour title at the Shenzhen Open.




After a meteoric rise up the rankings in 2018, Aryna Sabalenka was at the top of everybody's list of WTA players to watch in 2019. 

And the 20-year-old Belarusian has become the first player to claim a WTA title in 2019, defeating Alison Riske in three sets to win the Shenzhen Open on Saturday.

'It was a tough day for us, especially to come back after the first set. She played unbelievable, an incredible match,' Sabalenka said afterwards.

'She was putting everything in, down the lines, and she was playing really good. I'm so happy that I found a way how to win. This is the third title for me, and the second one in China. I'm so happy with this result and it's a great start of the year.'

Aryna Sabalenka (via Shenzhen Open on Facebook)
Both Sabalenka and Riske had to play two matches on Saturday thanks to heavy rain in Shenzhen on Thursday. The rain delayed Sabalenka's much-anticipated quarterfinal clash with Maria Sharapova to Friday, only for Sharapova to retire trailing 1-6, 2-4.

Sabalenka faced Wang Yafan in the semifinals on Saturday morning and won 6-2, 6-1, ending hopes of a first Chinese finalist in Shenzhen since Li Na and Peng Shuai faced off in 2014.

The USA's Riske, meanwhile, playing simultaneously, progressed to the final when Vera Zvonareva retired trailing 0-6, 0-1.

Riske, playing in her third Shenzhen final after finishing runner-up to Agnieszka Radwanska in 2016 and Katerina Siniakova in 2017, took the first set off the back of a solitary break of serve and retrieved the break that she conceded in the second to push the set to a tie-break before Sabalenka finally surged, dominating the tie-break and going on to win a high-quality match in two hours and 11 minutes.

'To start the season with a title, it gives you more belief in yourself, and hopefully I can do well at the Australian Open,' Sabalenka said. 'If I need to play two matches in one day, I'm going to do that.

'Physically, it's tough to get ready...but I tried to be focused on each point in the second match and just tried to do my best and fight for every point.'

Sabakenka holds the trophy (Shenzhen Open Facebook page)
It's the third WTA Tour title for Sabalenka and her second in China after winning the Premier-level Connecticut Open in New Haven last August and going on to claim the Premier-5 title in Wuhan in September. The Belarusian also made the finals of Lugano and Eastbourne and reached the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati as she surged up the rankings from world no. 73 to a career-high world no. 11 in October.

Sabalenka's 2018 results were so impressive that she narrowly missed out on qualifying for the season-ending WTA Finals Singapore, but her Shenzhen title not only makes a big statement to start her 2019 season, but could be a good omen for ending it in the same place - the year-end championships are moving to Shenzhen from 2019.

'Now I'm in first, and I'm so happy about that,' Sabalenka laughed. 'I really want to go to the WTA Finals. Last year, I didn't get in there. This year I'm going to do everything to go there, especially because we're playing in China.

'I like to play here and I will do my best to go.'

Sabalenka has little time to rest on her laurels - she is entered in the draw for next week's Apia International Sydney, and has been drawn to face Petra Kvitova in the first round.

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Sabalenka starts 2019 season with Shenzhen Open title

World no. 13 Aryna Sabalenka has picked up right where she left off in a career-best 2018 season, starting 2019 by winning two matches in one day to claim the third WTA title of her career at the Shenzhen Open

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