Sabalenka banned from serving yips to emerge as a title contender

Aryna Sabalenka was mired in the biggest crisis of her tennis career 12 months ago, but the Belarusian long-hitter has found the light at the end of a dark tunnel.

Defeating Wang Xinyu in the second round at the 2022 Australian Open, Sabalenka made 19 double mistakes and still got the win.

But it wasn’t a knockoff. Sabalenka made a total of 74 double errors in four games spanning from the 2021 WTA Finals to the two tournaments in Adelaide at the start of the 2022 season.

That was the scale of his problem when he made 10 double mistakes against Marketa Vondrousova in the third round at the Australian Open, which he considered a success.

“I think it’s more mental,” Sabalenka said at the time, “because I put a lot of pressure on myself with my serve and in recent games I’ve been trying to control everything on my serve; my legs, my arm, the ball. throwing. And it was overthinking.”

A year has passed and Sabalenka is looking for a different player, perhaps someone who might finally be ready to win a singles grand slam.

With dazzling form, this breakthrough could come this two weeks as Sabalenka beat Shelby Rogers 6-3 6-1 at Rod Laver Arena on Thursday.

And here’s the thing: three wands have served and not a couple of mistakes.

Yips were cured.

“I’ve worked hard on my serve,” the 24-year-old said after the Rogers game. “Too much indeed. You can’t imagine how hard I’ve worked. I’m so happy that everything is fine now.

“Oh my God, I did almost everything to fix my serve. All year we tried different things mentally, mental things, technique, technique, we tried to breathe differently.

“I’ve tried a lot. I’ve watched many different videos trying to figure out what’s different, from when I didn’t have a problem, to when I had a problem.”

Sabalenka made three double mistakes in her first-round win against Tereza Martincova, but all three are fine, even normal. Zero in the second round is something special.

The fifth seed will battle Belgium’s Elise Mertens, who knows she made it to the fourth round after a faulty game last year, for a place in the last 16 on Saturday.

If the service is reliable, the sky is the limit for Sabalenka. The three-time slam semifinalist had good all-around numbers against Rogers and a healthy 32 wins against 18 forced errors.

He reached the championship game at the WTA Finals in November, a big moment at the end of a rough year. A greater goal is now in front of him.

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