WTA Tour

Sabalenka 'sorry' to ball boy for on-court tantrum

Aryna Sabalenka (AP)
Aryna Sabalenka (AP)

Zhuhai - World No 12 Aryna Sabalenka has apologised for an on-court tantrum in which she shook an empty bottle in the direction of a ball boy before tossing it on the floor.

The big-hitting Belarusian faced criticism after footage of the episode during her quarter-final defeat to Wang Qiang at the China Open in early October was shared widely on social media.

But following a winning start at the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai, the 20-year-old vowed to "never do it again".

"Well, I'm so sorry," she said at her post-match press conference after beating Ashleigh Barty 6-4, 6-4.

"It was emotional and I was losing my mind and after that I saw it on Twitter and I was just like 'Oh my god, what did you mean?'.

"I didn't even remember this, and I was just like 'Wow, I'm sorry for this guy'."

The controversy came ahead of a similar incident in which Spain's Fernando Verdasco ranted at a ball boy for not bringing his sweaty towel quickly enough during a semi-final defeat by Yoshihito Nishioka at the Shenzhen Open.

Footage went viral on social media and saw Verdasco heavily criticised.

Judy Murray, the former British Fed Cup captain and mother of three-time Grand Slam winner Andy, tweeted: "What about a rule that makes players get their own towels?"

At the Shanghai Masters, Roger Federer said tennis sets the standard for many sports when it comes to respectful behaviour - and that must extend to the treatment of ball boys and girls.

"The ball kids are really important to us because they are also maybe the future of our game, like I was," said the Swiss player, a ball boy before going on to become a 20-time Grand Slam champion.

"You don't want to have them leaving with feeling, oh my God, I was not appreciated or I was not liked or it was a horrible thing."

But Federer pointed out that emotions run high in the heat of a match and that tennis is more intense now than in the past.

In 2015 Novak Djokovic, now a 14-time Grand Slam winner, apologised to a Wimbledon ball girl after he screamed in her direction, leaving her looking shaken.

Following Sabalenka's actions in Beijing, Anne Keothavong, Britain's Fed Cup captain, tweeted:"I don't care how good a tennis player you are but this type of behaviour needs to STOP."

An apologetic Sabalenka said, "It was bad of me and now I will never do it again, and I will try and be nice with the ball boys, even if they're sometimes so slow!

"They're just small kids, and you can't do anything to them. Yea, I'm so sorry for that guy and hopefully he's not pissed with me."

Sabalenka has shot up the world rankings from 39th to 12th place in just three months and was recently named WTA Newcomer of the Year.

Asked about her strong finish to the season, she said: "I didn't expect to do this well, but now I am just enjoying it and trying to improve more and more.

"It's a really good feeling."

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England 170/8 (61.4 ov)
Pakistan 326
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England 170/8 (61.4 ov)
Pakistan 326
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