The Pick: Aryna Sabalenka vs. Ajla Tomljanovic, Abu Dhabi preview

The Pick: Aryna Sabalenka vs. Ajla Tomljanovic, Abu Dhabi preview

After another dominant end-of-year campaign, can Sabalenka continue her torrid pace in 2021?

After finishing her season on yet another hot streak, Aryna Sabalenka hopes to maintain her momentum in 2021. In 2019, Sabalenka won two of her last three tournaments in Wuhan and Zhuhai, but struggled in the beginning of 2020. At the end of her 2020 season, she captured the year’s final two tournaments in Ostrava and Linz, defeating the likes of Jennifer Brady, Victoria Azarenka and Elise Mertens. The Belarusian’s talent is undeniable, but she has yet to string together a consistent season from start to finish. 

Having survived a tough test from Polona Hercog in the first round, Sabalenka will face off against Ajla Tomljanovic for the fourth time in her career. Sabalenka leads their head-to-head 2-1, winning both her matches in three sets, while losing in straights at the 2019 Miami Open. With her win over Lin Zhu on Monday, Tomljanovic snapped a six-match losing streak dating back to February of 2020. Needless to say, WTA's five-month hiatus did no favors for the Australian No. 2.

Sabalenka is the clear favorite in this matchup, so Tomljanovic must serve well to stand any chance. Sabalenka will hit plenty of return winners, but gifting the Belarusian a slow-moving second serve like this one will result in a quick day at the office. 

Their game styles are actually quite similar, both prefer constant offense to defense, but Sabalenka hits a far more powerful ball from both wings. It’s imperative that Tomljanovic force her opponent to hit shots on the run, and try and rip the ball off the court. From a standstill, Sabalenka is completely unbothered by pace. 

When playing the role of underdog, it’s imperative to capitalize on your chances. If Tomljanovic sees a weak second serve, she should avoid the middle and crush it to a corner, like this. 

If Sabalenka plays to her ability, Tomljanovic shouldn’t have much of a chance. But only time will tell if the Belarusian will finally carry her incredible end of season momentum into the new year. 

The Pick: Aryna Sabalenka