Aryna Sabalenka smashes racket after Miami Open defeat days after death of ex-boyfriend


Aryna Sabalenka

Aryna Sabalenka was frustrated by her defeat – AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Aryna Sabalenka lost her second match at the Miami Open to Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina and then smashed her racket three times in frustration.

Kalinina is the last of the seeded players at this tournament, at No 32 in the list, so she is no mug. But you wouldn’t normally have expected her to overcome Sabalenka – the world No 2 and recent Australian Open champion – on Sabalenka’s favoured surface of hard courts.

These are not normal circumstances, however. Sabalenka has had the most challenging of weeks in her personal life after her ex-boyfriend Konstantin Koltsov fell from the balcony of a luxury Miami resort last Sunday night. Miami-Dade Police have described the death as an “apparent suicide”.

Sabalenka later released a statement saying “Konstantin’s death is an unthinkable tragedy, and while we were no longer together, my is heart is broken.” She has worn black clothing on court in both her matches in Miami, and has cancelled all her press conferences.

There was no handshake after Kalinina’s 6-4, 1-6, 6-1 victory, but that is normal when players from Ukraine take on those from Russia or Belarus. It should not be taken as evidence of Sabalenka’s mental state, even though her vehement triple racket-smash – which came as soon as her final return had slid wide – showed that she was clearly angry with the result.

“It’s always tough to play on big stages against these top players,” said Kalinina, who has now defeated two former world No1s in back-to-back matches after her first-round win over Carolina Wozniacki. “Today was really tough with nerves but I managed in the tough moments to deal with it.”

Sabalenka had won her opening match against Paula Badosa, her best friend in the locker-room, by a 6-4, 6-3 scoreline. “We’ve been through a lot in our lives,” Badosa said after that contest, “and we’re strong women and we knew how to separate that [professional tennis] in that moment.”

Sabalenka is now likely to have a little time away from the game, which may be a mercy. Even before the Koltsov tragedy occurred, she had not been expected to play her next tournament until the Porsche Open in Stuttgart in three week’s time.

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