Aryna Sabalenka begins Miami Open with win 4 days after death of former partner

MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - MARCH 22: Aryna Sabalenka reacts to defeating Paula Badosa of Spain in the second round on Day 7 of the Miami Open Presented by Itau at Hard Rock Stadium on March 22, 2024 in Miami Gardens, Florida (Photo by Robert Prange/Getty Images)
Aryna Sabalenka decided to keep playing tennis after the death of her former partner. (Photo by Robert Prange/Getty Images) (Robert Prange via Getty Images)

World No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka began the Miami Open with a win over a close friend, four days after the death of her former partner Konstantin Koltsov.

The Belarusian star defeated Paula Badosa 6-4, 6-3 on Friday, then embraced Badosa at the net.

Sabalenka started dating Koltsoz in 2021, but the pair separated sometime before his death on Monday, which was ruled an apparent suicide with no suspected foul by police.

The 42-year-old Koltsov played three seasons with the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins and represented Belarus at the 2002 and 2010 Olympics. He spent much of his professional career playing in Russia's KHL. In retirement, he worked as an assistant coach for Russian club Salavat Yulaev Ufa and the Belarus men's national team.

Sabalenka publicly addressed his death on Wednesday, posting a statement on her Instagram story morning Koltsov and requesting privacy:

"Konstantin's death is an unthinkable tragedy, and while we were no longer together, my heart is broken. Please respect my privacy and his family's privacy during this difficult time."

Sabalenka received a friendly face in her return to the court. The two have described themselves as "best friends" on the WTA Tour, with Badosa saying before the match that Koltsov's death hadn't been easy for her either.

After the match, Badosa praised Sabalenka's focus:

“Well, honestly, both of us are pretty strong mentally. We're strong women. She proved it. I proved it. We knew how to disconnect in that two hours, one hours and a half of match.

She played really well. I played really well for where I'm coming from. I think it was quite decent. That all comes from because we know we've been through a lot in our lives, we're strong women, and we know how to separate that in that moment.”

Sabalenka will advance to face Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine in the Round of 32.