Aryna Sabalenka is off to a winning start this season, having not lost since Roland Garros. The Belarusian made it past a tight first set to take out Polona Hercog, 7-6 (5), 6-2, in her Abu Dhabi opener. This year, there is a noticeable change in her coaching box. Her ex-hitting partner Anton Dubrov is now her full-time coach.
Tennis is unlike football or basketball, where players don't dictate who their coach is.
"I really like that we can decide who we work with, but it's really tough to find the right person and a coach that will understand you," Sabalenka told press in Abu Dhabi.
In 2019, she split with long-time coach Dimitry Tursunov after some back-and-forth drama at that year's US Open.
Most recently, she parted ways with Dieter Kindlmann in the fall of 2020. Sabalenka thought highly of Kindlmann, but felt she wasn't ready to add a new member to her team.
"I'm not really open right now for another person," she said. "I feel very comfortable working with Anton, my ex-hitting partner."
Dubrov has served as Sabalenka's hitting partner for years and there is a strong foundation and understanding between the two.
"He knows me quite well, he knows what I need, what we have to work on," the world No. 10 said. "And if someone new were to come on, there's no new things they can say to me. That's why for now, I don't feel like I need someone else."
She ended 2020 on on a 10-match winning streak, that boosted her inside of the Top 10 for the first time. The 22-year-old captured the Ostrava title, taking out Coco Gauff, Jennifer Brady and Victoria Azarenka, and then won Linz by defeating her doubles partner Elise Mertens in the final.
In Abu Dhabi she appears to be carrying that same momentum and will face Ajla Tomljanovic on Frida.