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Sabalenka takes third straight title with Abu Dhabi win

Aryna Sabalenka was knocked out in the first round of last year's Autralian Open
Aryna Sabalenka was knocked out in the first round of last year's Autralian Open BARBARA GINDL APA/AFP/File
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Abu Dhabi (AFP)

Aryna Sabalenka heads to next month's Australian Open brimming with confidence after she captured a third consecutive title by outclassing Veronika Kudermetova 6-2, 6-2 in the Abu Dhabi final on Wednesday to extend her winning streak to 15 straight matches.

The 22-year-old from Belarus is the in-form player at the moment on the WTA tour and will be looking to translate her success from the smaller events into the majors, where she has yet to make it past the fourth round.

Sabalenka added a ninth singles trophy to her collection and will rise to a career-high number seven in the world when the new rankings are released next week.

"I came here to play some matches after one month of just preparation. I played six matches and it's really important and I'm really happy I could play that long and to win this title," Sabalenka told reporters in Abu Dhabi.

"I'm going to Australia, I'm confident with only one thing, that I'll do everything I can to win matches and that's the only confidence I have right now."

Sabalenka, who ended her 2020 season by clinching back-to-back titles in Ostrava and Linz, is also riding an 11-match winning streak in the Middle East, having triumphed in Doha on her last previous visit to the region 11 months ago.

She now has nearly three weeks before the start of the Australian Open which begins February 8, where she'll be considered one of the top contenders.

Sabalenka has already arranged for an exercise bike to be set up in her hotel room in Melbourne so she can still work out during the two-week quarantine period. In that 14-day window, players can only leave their rooms for five hours per day to practice.

"I will keep improving my game, keep working on some things. It's not just staying in shape," she said.

"As soon as you stop working on improving your game, you'll start losing, and I think that's the key of successful people," she added.

In the Abu Dhabi final, Sabalenka drew first blood, breaking for a 4-2 advantage by using the same suffocating kind of tennis that has kept her undefeated since the French Open third round last October. She took a comfortable one-set lead in 26 minutes.

It was one-way traffic for the 22-year-old until Kudermetova finally managed to end a six-game losing run by breaking the Sabalenka serve for 1-2 in the second set.

The fourth seed retaliated immediately though to reclaim control of the contest and it was all over in 65 minutes.

Despite her defeat, Kudermetova can take many positives from her week in the UAE into her Australian Open campaign after making it to her first WTA final and rising to a career-high 36 in the world.

"Now I have confidence, I beat good players here in Abu Dhabi and I feel OK before Australia," said the 23-year-old Russian.

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