From “disaster” and tears to weapon: tennis star Aryna Sabalenka looks unbeatable at Australian Open thanks to drastic choice

Sabalenka will compete against Magda Linette (WTA-45) for a place in the final. Earlier in the day, the 30-year-old Polish eliminated the Czech Karolina Pliskova (WTA-31) 6-3 and 7-5. In two previous mutual duels, Sabalenka beat Linette in two short sets. The last time that happened in 2021 in the first round of the Olympic tournament in Tokyo (6-2, 6-1).

In the other semifinal, the Belarusian Victoria Azarenka (WTA-24) and the Kazakh Elena Rybakina (WTA-25) face each other.

It is the fourth time that Sabalenka has reached the last four at a Grand Slam. At Wimbledon 2021 and the US Open in 2021 and 2022, the semifinals were also the final station, but now she seems to be on her way to her first grand slam final. The Belarusian has not lost a single set this year and therefore not a single match, after she won the preparatory tournament in Adelaide. At the Australian Open, she has so far lost 26 games in ten sets.

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The secret? A new service. Sabalenka has been prominently number one in recent years when it came to double faults. She ended 2022 with 440 of those expensive misses, no less than 151 more than the number two in the women’s. At the Adelaide tournament, which she won this year, things went so bad that after a while she started to hit her second serve privately. She even burst into tears in one match. “I can’t save anymore”, she sobbed during a game with 21 double faults. She would also play one with 19 double faults.

After having tried just about everything with her team, Elise Mertens’ former doubles partner opted for a drastic solution. She visited a doctor specialized in biomechanics. The goal: to completely overhaul her storage routine.

“At that point I was open to anything,” Sabalenka told The Guardian. “I was just like: Please, help me fix my f***ing raise! Before that, I had always kind of ignored the problem. I thought my serve was okay, but even when it was running, I still wasn’t hitting properly. It was a disaster. But we watched a lot of videos, talked and tried things. Admittedly, the first session seemed like an eternity… But then I started working hard.”

Successfully. Last season, Sabalenka was out in the fourth round at the Australian Open. She then hit 56 double faults. Now she has only 20 double faults after playing one game more. And she is a breath away from a first grand slam final.

“You know… I used to always go for an ace or a crazy winner to climb out of a tricky situation. So an easy solution. Now I keep repeating: Work for it, because it’s going to be hard. Get your shots, you have good service, work. It’s a completely different approach.”

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