Aryna Sabalenka throws shade at certain WTA player(s) after shock Dubai exit


Aryna Sabalenka throws shade at certain WTA player(s) after shock Dubai exit
© Getty Images Sport - Darrian Traynor

Aryna Sabalenka seemingly threw shade at a WTA colleague or a couple of them while openly admitting that she was just "faking" that she was not too disappointed over a shock Dubai exit. 

Three weeks after defending her Australian Open title, Sabalenka returned to action at this week's WTA 1000 event in Dubai. On Tuesday, Sabalenka went up by a set and a break against Donna Vekic - the Belarusian wasn't really dominating the Croatian but it seemed like the Belarusian would manage to close out the match in two sets. But then, Vekic came back from a set down to upset the second-seeded Belarusian 6-7 (5) 6-3 6-0.

Not only that Sabalenka losing to world No. 31 Vekic was an unexpected result in her Dubai opener, the fact that the world No. 2 lost 12 of the last 13 games made her loss even more baffling. But after the match, Sabalenka was smiling and appeared to be in good spirits while answering the questions. Then, a reporter told Sabalenka about how well she appeared to be taking what happened on the court - which prompted a funny but also interesting response from the 25-year-old.

Aryna Sabalenka
Aryna Sabalenka© Getty Images Sport - Phil Walter

"I'm faking it. I've been on tour for a while. Acting like some of the players - if you know who I'm talking about - being really... against the opponent, being sad here. I passed this stage," Sabalenka said, via Reem Abulleil.

Sabalenka honestly assesses her performance against Vekic

Early in the first set, Vekic broke Sabalenka in the third game but the Belarusian overturned the deficit and took a 5-3 lead after breaking the Croatian in the fourth and eighth games. On the verge of losing the first set, Vekic didn't quit as she broke back Sabalenka in the 10th game and saved three consecutive set points in the 12th game to force a tie-break. 

In the first-set tie-break, Vekic took a 2-0 lead before Sabalenka won the next five points before ultimately opening a 6-3 lead. Vekic managed to save Sabalenka's fourth and fifth set points but the Belarusian finally converted her sixth set point to win the first set.

Up by a set, Sabalenka also broke Vekic in the first game of the second set and served out the following game for a 2-0 lead. Then, Vekic went on to win 12 of the next 13 games and send No. 2 seed Sabalenka packing out of Dubai.

After the match, Sabalenka admitted she never felt comfortable against Vekic and highlighted the Croatian is always a very tricky opponent for her.

"I feel like the conditions here doesn't fit me well at all. It's really tricky for me to compete here in Dubai. Really tricky court for me," Sabalenka said.

"I would say that the whole match I was leading, I was winning. I won the first set. I was up with break. I didn't feel like I was up. The level was so bad today from me. I would say that she also didn't play her best. Like at the end she kind of step in and start playing way aggressively, way more aggressive 'cause she saw that I'm not playing my best at all. I think that's why she came back from that score that easy because, like, it was just like who's more lucky, you know? The level wasn't there at all. 

"She won a lot of matches against me. But all of the matches were close. I wouldn't say that she's really super tricky opponent for me. She's tough to play. She's a great fighter. She's a great player. Serving well. Playing well. It's not like because she's really tricky to play against."

Aryna Sabalenka
Aryna Sabalenka© Getty Images Sport - Christopher Pike

Vekic on beating Sabalenka

With Sabalenka 7-6 (5) 2-0 up, Vekic faced a break point in the third game and she was inches away from falling down by a set and a double break. But Vekic managed to save that break point and then go on to make a very impressive comeback.

After the match, former world No. 19 Vekic said she didn't arrive with big expectations in Dubai but also underlined that she always believed she could come back to beat Sabalenka.

"At all times I didn't give up. I didn't stop believing that I can win. I just kept fighting," Vekic said after beating Sabalenka.

"To be honest, I didn't have big expectations coming to Dubai. Told my coach that I'm taking this week as half holidays. I can tell you I spent more time on the beach than on the court. Maybe that's a good way going forward."

Donna Vekic
Donna Vekic© Getty Images Sport - Christopher Pike

Vekic, 27, now has a 6-2 head-to-head against Sabalenka. After their first six meetings, Vekic had a 5-1 head-to-head against Sabalenka. Then, Sabalenka beat Vekic en route to winning her first Australian Open title in 2023 January. 

13 months later, Vekic managed to beat Sabalenka again and get her revenge for a loss she suffered in the 2023 Australian Open quarterfinal.

Aryna Sabalenka Donna Vekic