Wimbledon ban 'something I needed', says Sabalenka
Aryna Sabalenka said last year's Wimbledon ban was "something I really needed" after the powerful Belarusian stormed into her second semi-final at the All England Club on Wednesday.
Twelve months ago, all Belarusian and Russian players were banned from Wimbledon in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
Belarus is a key military ally of Moscow.
"I was really sad that I couldn't play here last year," said the world number two after defeating Madison Keys 6-2, 6-4 in her quarter-final.
"But at the same time I was thinking that, 'OK, it's a good time to reset and start everything over again'.
"So although I was very sad I was like, 'OK, this is probably something I really needed'."
Since the All England Club ban, Sabalenka has made the semi-finals of the US Open, won the Australian Open in January and then reached another Grand Slam semi-final at the French Open in June.
Her victory at the Australian Open was one of three titles she has claimed in 2023 and she has now reached 40 match wins for the season.
"Before the grass season last year, I didn't play my best tennis," said the 25-year-old.
"I was struggling a lot with my serve, with these emotions, with a lot of stuff. I just took that time as good preparation, as like a little switch. Everything started working better."
Sabalenka, a semi-finalist at Wimbledon in 2021, will face last year's runner-up Ons Jabeur of Tunisia for a place in Saturday's final.
Should she reach the championship match, she will also take Iga Swiatek's world number one ranking.
"I'm trying to focus on myself because I know if I start thinking about all this stuff, I'm going to lose my focus on court," she said.
On Wednesday, Sabalenka clinched a double break in the opening set, in the first and fifth games, with her American opponent not helped by 10 unforced errors, twice as many as the more accurate Belarusian.
Keys, playing her second quarter-final at Wimbledon, also needed a quick courtside visit from the tournament doctor at 1-4 down in the opener.
The world number 18 broke for a 4-2 lead in the second set and was 40-0 in the next game but immediately undid all her hard work.
Sabalenka, 25, made the American pay by holding and breaking again for a 5-4 lead, which was converted into victory off a second match point after 87 minutes of action on Court One.
"I remember when I was 14 or 15 years old going to my practice with the headphones listening to music and dreaming of becoming one of the best players in the world, dreaming about lifting this beautiful trophy," said Sabalenka.