Aryna Sabalenka wins first match after ex-boyfriend’s death in Miami

Aryna Sabalenka - Sabalenka wins first match after ex-boyfriend's death in Miami

The match marked an end to an emotional week for Arnya Sabalenka following the death of her former partner Konstantin Koltsov – Getty Images/Lynne Sladky

A smiling Aryna Sabalenka received a rapturous standing ovation on Friday after beating Paula Badosa days after the death of her ex-boyfriend.

The world number two swapped her vibrant pink outfits for all black to play her “best friend” in the second round of the Miami Open.

Despite being delayed six hours by relentless rain, the bleechers gradually filled up with fans who bellowed in support of the Belarusian grand-slam winner.

The tennis star, who won 6-4, 6-3, appeared focused and in good spirits, at points laughing with her Spanish opponent across the net.

At the end of the match, the two friends had an emotional embrace before walking across the court together arm-in-arm.

The courageous performance took place just 12 miles from the five-star St Regis Bar Harbour Resort where Konstantin Kolstov is understood to have leapt to his death in an apparent suicide on Sunday night.

Badosa said while it hadn’t been “comfortable” to play her close friend under the tragic circumstances, they both had the strength to “disconnect” and concentrate on the game.

“We’ve been through a lot in our lives and we’re strong women and we knew how to separate that in that moment,” she told reporters after the game.

Badosa, 26, said she “wasn’t surprised” by her friend’s composure despite the terrible tragedy.

“I knew she was going to play very well… and I told her I wish her the best and let’s see if she can go very deep in this tournament,” she said.

Salablenka has certainly been through a lot in recent years. In 2019 she lost her father, Sergey, another former ice-hockey player, after he contracted meningitis aged 43.

This week the star revealed the depths of her fortitude and her dedication to the sport she loves as she grappled with another devastating loss.

Determined to stay in her “home” tournament, the “heartbroken” grand slam winner returned to the court to practice in the days following his death.

But despite her brave exterior, Sabalenka kept to herself during a week of torment grieving the loss of the man she once described as her “greatest support”.

Trying to avoid the spotlight, insiders said she requested her game be moved from the main Stadium court to the smaller Grandstand court.

“She’s stayed away as much as she could”, Prakash Amritraj, Tennis Channel presenter told The Telegraph.

“When you do see her, your heart just sinks immediately”, he said, adding: “I did see her one of the first couple days and understandably she kind of kept to herself. It’s impossible to fathom how difficult it is.”

Amritaj said it was fitting she was playing Badosa because “there’ll be great love and sympathy on the other side of the net, and Paula will give that to her because that’s the kind of person Paula is.”

Sabalenka hasn’t commented on Kolstov’s death other than to say her “heart was broken” by the “unthinkable tragedy”

While it is not clear when the pair split, Sabalenka had been dating the professional hockey player, 42, since 2021 and he had been courtside when Sabalenka won her second grand-slam title in Melbourne in January.

Over the past few days Sabalenka has been enveloped in a bubble of support and love from her fellow players and fans.

Badosa, 26, had previously said it would be “uncomfortable” facing her grieving close friend so soon after Kolstov’s death.

“I know the entire situation, what is happening”, she said.

“That for me is a little bit shocking also to go through that because at the end she’s my best friend and I don’t want her to suffer.”

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