‘I started to respect myself more’: How Australian Open winner Aryna Sabalenka beat the curse of self-doubt

Aryna Sabalenka has recalled her “it’s not you, it’s me” moment as she fought to save the relationship that ultimately made her career.

Sabalenka jubilantly declared her stirring Australian Open final triumph over Elena Rybakina the best day of her life, having returned from the depths of despair to finally claim her maiden grand slam singles crown.

It was only 10 months ago, while grappling with self doubts and gripped by her infamous serving yips, that the Belarusian’s trusted coach Anton Dubrov tried to walk away.

But Sabalenka insisted: “No, it’s not you. We just have to work through these tough moments and we’ll come back stronger.”

“It was after Dubai happened. He just said like, ‘I don’t know what to do. I think you need to find someone else who’s going to help you’.

“But I knew that it’s not about him. It’s just something about me. I just have to figure out the problem. We have to get through it.”

And get through it they did.

Battle to banishing the yips

After coughing up some 56 double faults and crashing out in the fourth round of last year’s Australian Open, a desperate Sabalenka turned to a psychologist and biomechanic – and the stunning transformation is now complete.

Tennis’s most unfulfilled talent is a major winner at last.

“I’m really happy that we keep working together. We went through so many things together,” the 24-year-old said as she savoured Saturday night’s 4-6 6-3 6-4 victory over Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.

“It’s even sweeter that we get it together as a team. It was a long journey for us. We are here with the grand slam title, which is really amazing.

“Nothing comes easily.”

Being banned from competing at Wimbledon last year because of the invasion of Ukraine was a “really tough” moment for Sabalenka.

But she returned to grand slam tennis at the US Open with new-found belief, drawing only positives from a tight three-set semi-final loss to world No.1 Iga Swiatek in New York – her third tumble at the last four of a major.

“I learned that I have to be a little bit calmer on court and I don’t have to rush things,” Sabalenka said.

“I just have to play my game, be calm, and believe in myself, that I can actually get it.

“These two weeks I really was super calm on court, and I really believed in myself a lot, that my game will give me a lot of opportunities in each game to win this title.”

A ‘nobody’ no longer

Before, Sabalenka never truly believed she belonged.

“I always had this weird feeling when people would come to me and ask for signature,” she said.

“I would be like, ‘Why are you asking for signature? I’m nobody. I don’t have a grand slam’ and all this stuff.

“But I just changed how I feel. Like, I started to respect myself more. I started to understand that actually I’m here because I work so hard and I’m actually good player.

“Just having this understanding that I’m a good player, I can handle a lot of emotions, a lot of things on court.

“Every time I had a tough moment on court, I was just reminding myself that I’m good enough to handle all this, just everything.”

Sabalenka will return to an equal-career-high No.2 in the world on Monday, with the top ranking and more major spoils in her sights.

“We all have the kind of the same goals,” she said.

“Winning a grand slam, of course. It’s not the last one on my list.”


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