The Belarusian world No. 20 has rocketed up the rankings this season, starting 2018 at 73, and could rise to as high as 17 in the world if she lifts the title in Wuhan.
Making her tournament debut this week, Sabalenka took out an in-form Dominika Cibulkova 7-5, 6-3 on Thursday to reach her second consecutive semi-final at a Premier 5-level event.
“I didn’t expect this. I’m just came to this tournament for enjoying, just to show my best. Well, it is how it is. I am happy with this,” said Sabalenka, who claimed her first WTA title in New Haven last month.
The 20-year-old, who hired former ATP player Dmitry Tursunov as a coach ahead of the start of the grass season, is thrilled with her progress so far and paid credit to the Russian for helping her hone her power and adjust her game.
“Before I was hitting every ball just as hard as I can. After I started work with Dmitry, he explained, ‘You don’t need to do it all the time. Sometimes it’s only to put three balls in. With your speed, it’s enough’. Well, I think this thing started working with me,” she said on Thursday.
“I was really wanting to change something. I was really open for information. I was really listening to him, try to make it as fast as I can. I think I did it quite fast.”
Sabalenka reached the first final of her career 11 months ago in Tianjin and admits she enjoys playing tournaments in China.
“I like to play in China. I always do well here. I don’t know why. Probably the fried rice make me much stronger on the court,” she said with a laugh.
“Yeah, I like this city. Everyone is open. Everyone is friendly. Yeah, I like the tournament here. I’m always happy to come back in China. I’m always waiting for this part of the season.”
Someone who also knows what it’s like to enjoy success in China is Barty, who is into the semis in Wuhan for a second straight year, thanks to a 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Thursday. Barty defeated Sabalenka in their sole previous meeting, in the Australian Open first round last January, and it was a close three-set thriller.
“I played against her on Australian Open. It was such a good match. I really waiting for next one. She’s a great player. She’s, like, I would like to say tricky player because she’s playing slice, lobs, with spin. It will be not easy match. Of course, semi-final, who gets easy here?” said Sabalenka of the crafty Aussie, who was the sole seed (from 16 in total) to reach the quarter-finals in Wuhan this week.
Commenting on Sabalenka’s fast rise this year, Barty said: “She’s had a phenomenal season. She really has. It was bound to happen, to be honest. She’s an absolute quality player.”
Here’s a look at some of Sabalenka’s stats entering the Wuhan semi-finals…
5 – semi-finals reached by Sabalenka this season.
7 – top-10 wins Sabalenka has amassed this season, all claimed within the last four months.
18 – wins against just four losses for Sabalenka since losing her qualifying opener in San Jose end of July.
19 – three-set main draw match wins this season for Sabalenka, the most on tour.
23 – aces struck by Sabalenka so far this week in Wuhan, across four matches.
28 – Sabalenka joins Simona Halep at the top of the leaderboard for most hard-court match wins on tour this season with 28.
39 – main draw match wins for Sabalenka this season. Prior to 2018, she only had a total of 12 main draw match wins on tour. Only seven players have posted more tour-level main draw match wins than her this year.
66.1% – Sabalenka’s winning percentage on service points this tournament. She is 59.9% in that category across the season.
74.7% – Sabalenka’s winning percentage in first-serve points this week in Wuhan, the highest among the field. She is 68.2% in that category across the season.
111 – Sabalenka’s ranking 12 months ago.
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