Australian Open: Reformed character Sabalenka says being 'boring' can bring elusive grand slam

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Aryna Sabalenka could never previously have been accused of being "boring", but she now wears that tag as a badge of honour and believes it can lead to Australian Open glory.

The world number five from Belarus has found a way to control her previously volatile emotions, cured her torrid serving yips through persistent hard work, and an elusive grand slam might soon be coming her way.

Sabalenka won 6-2 6-3 against Belgian Elise Mertens in an hour and 14 minutes on Margaret Court Arena on Saturday, delivering another dominant performance that means she has yet to drop a set this year.

That includes a fuss-free run to the Adelaide International 1 title and a brisk dash through the opening three rounds at Melbourne Park. She is 14-0 for sets in 2023, and this new version of Sabalenka faces Olympic champion Belinda Bencic next for a place in the quarter-finals.

Sabalenka's talent has never been in doubt, but her temperament has been a sticking point.

Asked what had been key to her sauntering untroubled through the opening rounds this year, Sabalenka said: "I think my calmness on the court. That's pretty much it. I was just ready for everything. Whatever's going to happen on court, I'm ready for that. I think this is the key.

"I wish I would have been like that a few years ago. Finally, I understand what everyone was looking for and asking for.

"I need to be a little bit boring on court. It's still about a lot of positive emotions for me, but I'm trying to stay away from negative and just fight for every point."

She is fighting the inclination to throw her racket and scream when moments go against her, and says staving off the dark thoughts is becoming "a little bit more natural right now".

Last year, Sabalenka served at least 10 double faults in each of her three opening matches in Melbourne, coming from a set down to win each time, before bowing out in round four after a wild tussle with Kaia Kanepi.

Iga Swiatek remains the title favourite with the bookmakers this year, but Sabalenka is second on that list.

"About being the favourite, I don't know," the 24-year-old said. "I mean, it's really good that I'm there, but I better focus on myself, on my game, make sure that my dream will happen."

She is allowing herself to dream, but not to become carried away, knowing this has been her undoing in the past.

"I just have to stay the same, because before, in the second week, I remember I was getting nervous, I was overthinking, over-dreaming," Sabalenka said. "I really believed and believe that the only one thing that was missing was my emotions, that I was too emotional on court.

"I really believe if I'm going to keep the same mindset, the same calm on court, I really believe that I can get it."

Bencic is also enjoying a terrific start to the year, winning the Adelaide International 2 tournament and easing through her opening Australian Open tests.

The Swiss has a new coach in Dmitry Tursunov, and the link-up with the Russian, who briefly worked with Emma Raducanu last season, is bearing fruit.

Sabalenka knows the threat that lies ahead, saying of Bencic: "She's a great fighter, a great player, moving well, hitting the ball quite clean.

"I feel like I have to stay really aggressive in the first few shots, and then the slower ball or shorter ball will come.

"I think it's all about fast feet on the first few shots. I have to be like really a tiger, stay low and ready for that."