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Tennis-Sabalenka says she will be stronger after French Open loss, furore

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By Karolos Grohmann

PARIS (Reuters) – World number two Aryna Sabalenka was left to rue missed chances in her French Open semi-final loss to Czech Karolina Muchova on Thursday but said she would come out of the tournament tougher.

The Belarusian, this year’s Australian Open champion, had a far from ideal start to the tournament, facing questions on her country’s support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

She skipped two post-match press conferences as she initially refused to condemn the war before easing media tension a few days later by expressing her opposition to it and to Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.

“I felt bad emotionally after one press conference,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep. But the only thing I can do well in this life is play tennis, so I try to focus on things I could control and I could do.

“So there wasn’t any moment when I was, like, I don’t want to play tennis. That’s the only thing I do well in life and I have some control.

“I think I’m really exhausted right now. But I think it’s only because I lost this match. It’s been great couple of weeks with some emotional challenges, but I think I get through it. I think I’ll be stronger.”

With the media storm behind her, Sabalenka went into the semi-final against Muchova knowing that winning the title would put her top of the world rankings for the first time.

She missed a match point on her opponent’s serve at 5-2 in the third set and then her own serve collapsed as the Czech raced through five consecutive games.

“I think after I lost my serve (at 5-3),” she said when asked when the match slipped out of her hands.

“I was serving for the match, so I think after that game she kind of stepped in and started playing a little bit more aggressive. I kind of lost my rhythm. I wasn’t there,” she said.

“I don’t look at this tournament as a negative tournament. I think I did great improvement on the clay court, and it’s my best result here.”

Sabalenka, who missed Wimbledon last year because of a ban on Russian and Belarusian players following the invasion, said she was happy to have a visa to play there in July.

“Yes, now I have visa. Woo-hoo. I can celebrate. I’m coming to Wimbledon, which is great news,” she said.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Ed Osmond)

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