Aryna Sabalenka will aim to keep the focus on tennis and not politics on her return to Wimbledon, with the “super emotional” Belarusian saying on Saturday she was relishing the chance to compete in the Grand Slam again.
The grasscourt major starting on Monday will welcome back players from Russia and Belarus this year after reversing a 2022 ban on them due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, during which Belarus was used as a staging area.
Sabalenka skipped two press conferences at the French Open citing mental health reasons after questions from the media about Russia’s aggression before finally declaring that she did not support the war.
The world number two, who also distanced herself from Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, said her mind was on the game.
“I’m always telling myself that the best I can do is focus on things I have control on,” Sabalenka told reporters. “That’s really helping a lot to not think about anything else but the tennis.
“I have no expectations (from the crowd). I only have hope they will support me as they did last year – hopefully.”
Sabalenka, who won the Australian Open in January, said she missed competing at Wimbledon last year and would sometimes cry when watching the action from home.
“I’m super emotional right now. I’m super happy to be back. I really miss this place. When I got here first time, I was just enjoying. I couldn’t believe I’m here,” she said.
“I’m feeling good. I don’t have any kind of expectations. The only one expectation I have is just to bring my best tennis every time I’m on the court. Hopefully I’ll do it.”
Along with world number one Iga Swiatek and holder Elena Rybakina, Sabalenka is among the favourites for the title and fans and pundits have dubbed them the “Big Three” of women’s tennis due to their recent dominance.
“It’s really cool to be one of those great players,” said Sabalenka, who will take on Panna Udvardy in the first round.
“I’m pretty sure if I’m going to bring my best tennis, I’ll be focused from the beginning till the end, I’m pretty sure that I can do really well.”
Wimbledon runs from July 3-16.