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BRISBANE: Aryna Sabalenka admitted Saturday she was feeling the pressure after a breakthrough 2023 saw her claim her a maiden Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, but a new mindset was helping her deal with it.

The 25-year-old Belarusian also finished runner-up at the US Open and made the semi-finals of Wimbledon and Roland Garros on her way to becoming world number one.

Currently ranked second in the world behind Poland’s Iga Swiatek, Sabalenka is top seed at the season-opening Brisbane International, which begins on Sunday.

She said she had been working hard during the off-season in a bid to become the first woman to win consecutive Australian Opens since countrywoman Victoria Azarenka in 2012 and 2013.

But she conceded to feeling added pressure as defending champion at Melbourne Park.

“Last year I did an amazing job, it wasn’t easy to do,” Sabalenka said.

“It’s not going to be easy this season. Just having this kind of thought in the background of your mind, actually having a title to defend, makes it actually not easy. “I’m trying not to put pressure on myself. I’m just trying to prepare myself as good as I can – it’s not an easy thing to do, especially with the Grand Slams.”

Sabalenka put her stellar 2023 down to a change of attitude.

“I kind of accept the fact that I can lose, that everyone can go out there and beat me if I’m not bringing my best tennis,” she said.

“Accepting this fact gives you more belief – you’re more calm on the court in those crucial moments.

“Worst case, what happens?” she asked. “I’m going to lose a Grand Slam, lose some points, drop a little bit in the rankings.

“But there’s so many tournaments ahead. I’m going to try to do my best to be in another Grand Slam or in other tournaments. “That’s why I like my mindset, you can beat me, but I’m going to prepare every match and have huge chances to win match after match, probably to hold the trophy.”

Sabalenka has a first round bye in Brisbane and will play either Italian Lucia Bronzetti or Ashlyn Krueger in the second round.

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