The spring part of the clay season – 2023 is coming to an end. The last tournament to be played on clay this part of the year will be Roland Garros. Already on Sunday, May 28, the matches of the first round will begin in the French TBSH. Arina Sobolenko, the second racket in the world, representative of Belarus, will also debut next Sunday in Paris. A Minsk native answered journalists’ questions before the first round match with Marta Kostyuk, although not all of them were convenient for the Australian Open champion.
— Arina, welcome back to Roland Garros. Tell us how you feel and how your preparation for the tournament is going. — Yes, I am very happy to be here, I feel good. Preparations are going well. I can’t wait to play my first game here.
— It’s funny how well the last two weeks have gone in terms of reset. Maybe it was good not to play much during the two-week tournament just before Roland Garros. Yes, I think what happened to me in Rome was good. It was a good lesson for all of us. Yes, I was exhausted, but we have recovered well now. I was able to reload and start over.
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— Could you tell us a bit about your first impressions on clay in Paris and what may have changed in your game and for clay in particular? “I definitely feel better than in Rome. The courts are much better than there. Yes, I really feel good on these courts. Yes. I don’t know what to say (smiles). It’s a nice feeling.
– To what extent do you realize that you can potentially become the first racket in the world based on the results of the tournament? To what extent is this a motivating factor for you, if so? – I don’t stop there. Because every time I focus on something like that, like points, rankings, results, I’m not performing at my best. So I just want to focus on myself, my game and make sure I play my best tennis. Then we’ll see what happens in these couple of weeks.
Photo: Alex Pantling/Getty Images
— Tennis is often associated with rivalry between players. I wonder if you feel like you are creating a rivalry between you, Iga Sviontek and Elena Rybakina, the top 3 currently on top of the game? Perhaps your trio separates itself from the general mass of players? What do you mean by “separate”? Like we’re not close to each other or what?
“Sorry, I want to say that you three may be at a high level compared to other players. Yeah, I mean, it’s a really wonderful thing. I think it’s good for tennis to see the best players consistently succeed. I think it takes everyone to the next level and encourages everyone to push for more and play better. You see how Iga pushed me last season (smiles). I think it’s something really important and nice to see. In my opinion, it’s good that people watch these matches and see that the best players make it to the decisive stages of the tournament. For example, I think it’s good that people watch high-level tennis finals.
– During a similar interview, Iga said that he was given additional motivation by the fact that he often plays with you and Elena in the finals. Do you feel the same, or do you like that if you reach the final in a big tournament, then you play, perhaps, with the same tennis players, and other matches, other finals are fresh in your memory? “In fact, I like it a lot, because we always have hard battles with Iga or Elena. So yeah, it’s really extra motivation for me. That’s what I’m talking about now: it really takes you to the next level. You work very hard to win the title. There are no easy games. So yeah, that really motivates me a lot to keep going, to keep doing what we’re doing.
“Obviously, you’ve had an amazing season since it started. I’m just curious if you feel like this is turning into clay as well, maybe you’ve become a better player than ever before in many ways? Do you feel like you’re playing better than ever on clay? – Never?
– Yeah. – Yes I think so. On clay, I felt different from last year or maybe two years ago. Yes, I feel like I’m doing better now on clay (smiles).
Sobolenko took the Madrid title and 1.1 million euros in prize money. Calendar, Layouts, and Grids
– For the first time you come to TBSH, having won a major before. Do you feel completely different this time? Don’t you feel like there’s a little more pressure on you? Obviously there is more attention here, but how do you feel about this clay slam after winning in Australia? Actually, after winning the Australian Open, I thought it would be easier, but it’s not the same: I mean, I still have to show my best tennis and the fact that I have a Grand Slam in the collection won’t help. May the next major win. They will all come and try to defeat me. Therefore, I have to show my best tennis every time I go out on the court. So it doesn’t change anything. I guess, in my mind now, it’s like I believe in myself more than ever, that I can do well in the big leagues. I can probably earn a few more TBSH.
– In Stuttgart, you said that if you could finish the SVO (the wording was changed in accordance with the official position of the Russian Federation. – Approx. “Championship”), you would do it. Was there any reaction from Marta Kostyuk about it? How will she deal with the situation that she won’t shake hands after the first round match? “Well, I don’t know if there was any reaction from him. But yeah, that’s right, if he could stop her, he would. And as for handshakes, I basically get them. I imagine that if you shake hands with Russians or Belarusians, you will get a lot of messages from your countries. So I understand why they don’t. At the same time, according to my feelings, sport should not be in politics. I mean, we’re just athletes. If they feel good when there’s no handshake, I’m happy for them.
– Arina, are you ready to become the first racket in the world? – I think so (smiles). I don’t know. I think I’ve become much better, and I have everything to be #1. But again, I don’t want to dwell on that. I just want to focus on my game, I want to show my best tennis every time, and after the season we’ll see if I’m ready or not.
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– After Rome, you said that you need some time to recharge your batteries. Do you feel a surge of strength? What have you done to achieve this? – Yes, sure. My physical therapist has treated me a lot. I had a few days off to enjoy Rome, then Paris. It was a very good couple of days. Yeah, and then I started training again.
— About the game against Martha. Is it difficult to go to the match when you know that the opponent has these negative emotions towards you personally? I mean, I know this is obviously out of your personal realm, but it’s also about you. I don’t want to waste my energy on those things. I mean, it’s none of my business. If she hates me, she’s fine, there’s nothing she can do about it. There will be people who love me, there will be people who hate me. If she hates me, fine. I don’t feel the same way about her.
– I have already asked you about playing on clay, and you can feel that you have become better than you were before. Could you tell us more about this? What do you have in your arsenal that you can do better now? How would you rate your work in the last three years? Over the last three years you have lost here in three games in the third round. Doesn’t that leave you with a bit of a bitter taste? – Yes, the last few years were not very successful for me here at Roland Garros. This is additional motivation for me to work better. Yes, I think I have become stronger physically, so I can move better on clay, I don’t rush things and I am calm on the court. So I’ve improved a lot since then. I would say there have been improvements since last year and so this makes me an “improved” clay court player. And yes, in recent years, the results here have not been good enough. I’m going to do everything in my power to improve the results here.