Aryna Sabalenka continued her remarkable run of form, and warmed up for the Australian Open in style, by winning the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open.
The Belarusian defeated Veronika Kudermetova 6-2, 6-2 in just over an hour to secure her 15th win on the bounce.
Sabalenka has also won three consecutive tournaments – adding the title in the UAE capital to triumphs in Ostrava and Linz at the end of 2020.
Remarkably, the 22-year-old has only lost four sets in those 15 matches – with only one of those coming in six matches so far this year.
She made light work of tour friend Kudermetova on Wednesday – winning in 66 minutes.
So is she now the woman to beat in Melbourne next month?
Aryna Sabalenka is still an outsider for the Australian Open
In short, probably not.
Sabalenka may have fostered a winning mentality over the past few years but that is yet to be translated to Grand Slam level.
Remarkably, she didn’t get past the third round in any major in 2019 or 2020.
Sabalenka has flattered to deceive badly in Melbourne – exiting the season’s opening Grand Slam at the first round in two of the past three years.
She has only ever reached the second week of a Slam once – losing to the likes of Magdalena Rybarikova, Yulia Putintseva and Amanda Anisimova in the last two years.
None of those defeats were particularly shocking in isolation – but an overall Grand Slam record of 11 wins to 12 losses simply isn’t good enough for a player of Sabalenka’s standing.
You kind of feel that the acid test for her in Melbourne will be negotiating the early rounds safely.
If she can grow into her Aussie surroundings, and reach the latter stages of the tournament, many will be backing her to take the first major step in her career.
And, with a record of nine wins from her last 10 finals, you’d certainly fancy her if she reaches that stage.