Confidence and momentum can be powerful forces in tennis and Aryna Sabalenka has both in droves. The Belarusian extended her winning streak to 15 matches on Wednesday when she won the Abu Dhabi WTA Women's Tennis Open title – her third tournament triumph in a row, stretching back to the end of last season.
It's not only that Sabalenka is winning so many matches but doing so emphatically. Since embarking on the longest unbeaten run of her career, the 22-year-old has lost just four sets.
As such, Veronika Kudermetova – competing in her first ever WTA final – was given little chance of halting the Sabalenka stampede and the contest at the Zayed Sports City International Tennis Centre went pretty much as expected.
The fourth seed needed just one hour and five minutes to wrap up a 6-2, 6-2 victory, and while Kudermetova had her moments – most notably twice breaking the Sabalenka serve in the second set – it was about as convincing a performance as any WTA final will witness this season.
"I am really proud that I was fighting no matter what," Sabalenka said as she reflected on her week in Abu Dhabi. "Some matches I didn’t feel my serve, some matches I didn’t feel my backhand or forehand, but I told myself to keep fighting and I’m really happy with this title."
From the capital, Sabalenka will make her way to Melbourne where she will be one of the favourites for next month's Australian Open.
For a player with nine WTA titles already in her short career, and now up to a career-high No 7 in the world rankings, a Grand Slam breakthrough is the one thing still missing, with a fourth round at the 2018 US Open her best effort so far.
Sabalenka has been quick to downplay her Australian Open chances all week, and she struck a similar tone following her final victory.
"I came here to play matches after one month of preparations and I played six matches, so it was great that I could play that many and win this title," she said. "I’m going to Australia confident that I will do everything I can to win matches and that is the only confidence I have right now."
Before all of that, though, a two-week quarantine period awaits Sabalenka on arrival. During that time, she will be allowed out of her room within the Melbourne Park bubble for five hours each day to practice. Despite Sabalenka's fine form that has shown few weaknesses in her game, the new champion insists there is still plenty of work to be done.
"I will have a few days to recover from this week and then I will keep improving my game and working on some things," she said. "There’s always something to improve. When you stop working to improve then you will start losing."
As for Kudermetova, her week may have ended in a one-sided defeat but the rest of her tournament should be considered an unbridled success.
Ranked world No 46 ahead of Abu Dhabi, the Russian will climb to her own career-high spot of 36, which puts her right in contention for one of the 32 seeded places at the Australian Open with another warm-up event still to play.
With wins this past week over world No 23 Annet Kontaveit and, more significantly, world No 5 Elina Svitolina, Kudermetova has plenty reason to be satisfied with her campaign.
"I’m still staying positive, it’s the first week and my first final so it’s a great feeling and now I have good confidence," she said. "I beat good players here in Abu Dhabi and I feel good before Australia."
Ultimately, Sabalenka proved a challenge too far, but that has become an increasingly common theme on the WTA Tour.