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Aryna Sabalenka

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Aryna Sabalenka
Sabalenka WM18 (3) (30063199288).jpg
Native nameАрына Сабаленка
Country (sports) Belarus
ResidenceMinsk, Belarus
Born (1998-05-05) 5 May 1998 (age 21)[1]
Minsk, Belarus
Height1.82 m (6 ft 0 in)
Turned pro2015
PlaysRight-handed (two-handed backhand)
CoachDmitry Tursunov
Prize money$4,743,626
Official websitearynasabalenka.com
Singles
Career record194–110 (63.8%)
Career titles5 WTA, 1 WTA 125K, 5 ITF
Highest rankingNo. 9 (4 February 2019)
Current rankingNo. 11 (28 October 2019)
Grand Slam Singles results
Australian Open3R (2019)
French Open2R (2019)
Wimbledon2R (2017)
US Open4R (2018)
Doubles
Career record59–52 (53.2%)
Career titles3 WTA, 1 WTA 125K, 1 ITF
Highest rankingNo. 2 (21 October 2019)
Current rankingNo. 5 (25 November 2019)
Grand Slam Doubles results
Australian Open3R (2019)
French OpenSF (2019)
WimbledonQF (2019)
US OpenW (2019)
Other doubles tournaments
Tour FinalsRR (2019)
Grand Slam Mixed Doubles results
Wimbledon2R (2019)
Team competitions
Fed CupF (2017)
Last updated on: 21 October 2019.

Aryna Siarhiejeŭna Sabalenka (Belarusian: Арына Сяргееўна Сабаленка; Russian: Арина Сергеевна Соболенко, Arina Sergeyevna Sobolenko, born 5 May 1998) is a Belarusian professional tennis player. She has been a top ten player in both singles and doubles, having been ranked as high as No. 9 in singles and No. 2 in doubles by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA). Sabalenka won her first Grand Slam title in doubles at the 2019 US Open alongside Elise Mertens. She has won eight WTA titles in total, five in singles and three in doubles.

Sabalenka was unheralded as a junior and relatively unknown until 2017 when she rose to prominence by leading the Belarus Fed Cup team to a runner-up finish with Aliaksandra Sasnovich, despite both of them being ranked outside the top 75 at the time. Following the 2017 Fed Cup, she began having more success on the WTA Tour, reaching four finals in 2018 to go along with eight top ten victories. Sabalenka continued to excel in singles in 2019 with three titles in China, highlighted by a defense of her Wuhan Open title at the Premier 5 level and by winning the WTA Elite Trophy at the end of the year. She finished both 2018 and 2019 ranked No. 11 in the world in singles. Sabalenka also began playing doubles regularly in 2019. With Mertens as her partner, she completed the Sunshine Double by winning the two Premier Mandatory tournaments in March, the Indian Wells Open and the Miami Open. After a US Open doubles title later in the year, she also qualified for the WTA Finals for the first time.

Sabalenka has a very aggressive style of play, often accumulating high numbers of winners and unforced errors. With her height, she also has a very strong serve. The power and ferocity in her game has been described as "big babe tennis personified".

Early life and background[edit]

Sabalenka was born on 5 May 1998 in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Her father Sergey (d. 2019) was a hockey player. Aryna started playing tennis by chance. She said, "One day, my dad was just driving me somewhere in the car, and on the way he saw tennis courts. So he took me to the courts. I really liked it and enjoyed it and that's how it was. That's how it started." She began training at the National Tennis Academy in Minsk when it opened in 2014.[2][3][4]

In 2015, the Belarusian Tennis Federation persuaded Sabalenka and her team to focus on playing low-level professional events instead of junior tournaments, even though she was still eligible to compete at the junior level at the time.[5]

Junior career[edit]

Sabalenka had a late start on the ITF Junior Circuit, instead competing on the U14 and U16 Tennis Europe tours at a younger age.[6][7][8] She did not compete in the main draw of any ITF events until 2013 at the low-level Grade 4 Tallink Cup in Estonia at the age of 15. She ultimately never played in the junior Grand Slam tournaments, or any other high-level Grade A and Grade 1 events. Without the higher point levels from these bigger tournaments, she had a career-high ranking of just No. 225.[9]

Sabalenka won her first ITF title in doubles at the lowest-level Grade 5 Alatan Tour Cup in Belarus in late 2013 with compatriot Vera Lapko as her partner. In 2014, she excelled at Grade 4 events. She reached her first singles final at the Estonian Junior Open in June and won her first singles title at the MTV Total Junior Cup in Finland in October. At the end of the season, Sabalenka defended her Alatan Tour Cup doubles title, this time with compatriot Nika Shytkouskaya, and also won the singles title. She only played in one tournament in 2015, the European Junior Championships. As a Grade B1 event, this was the highest level junior tournament she played in. She lost in the second round to top seed Markéta Vondroušová.[6][9]

Professional career[edit]

2012–16: Top 200, Fed Cup debut[edit]

Sabalenka began playing on the ITF Women's Circuit in 2012, even before she competed on the ITF Junior Circuit. Her first five tournaments were in her hometown of Minsk and spread out over two years, but she did not win a main draw match in any of them. She won her first professional match at the very end of 2014 in Istanbul. The following season in October, she won her first two titles in back-to-back weeks in Antalya, both at the $10K level. Sabalenka also won a $25K title the last week of the year.[10] This title put her into the top 300 of the WTA rankings for the first time at the start of 2016.[11] That year, she made her Fed Cup debut in April, losing her only match.[12] She also won her two biggest titles to date at the $50K level. The first in Tianjin[13] put her into the top 200 in May and the second in Toyota[14] in November helped her finish the year ranked at No. 137 in the world.[10][11]

2017: Fed Cup heroics, WTA 125K title, top 100[edit]

Sabalenka at the 2017 Washington Open

Despite some early season success in Fed Cup, Sabalenka had a quiet start to the year otherwise. She played in her first WTA main draw in February as a qualifier at the Dubai Open;[15] however, she did not win her first WTA match until Wimbledon in July. In her Grand Slam debut, she again reached the main draw through qualifying and defeated Irina Khromacheva in the opening round.[16] Sabalenka followed up this achievement with another WTA win over No. 34 Lauren Davis at the Washington Open, the 2016 runner-up and the highest-ranked player she had defeated at the time.[17]

After losing in qualifying at the US Open, Sabalenka reached her first ever WTA semifinal at the Tashkent Open, defeating 3rd seed and world No. 53 Tatjana Maria along the way.[18][19] A few weeks later, she entered the Tianjin Open as the 119th-ranked player in the world, but managed to reach her first WTA final.[20] There, she faced her childhood idol Maria Sharapova, but ultimately lost in two close sets. With this performance, she rose to No. 76 in the rankings, entering the top 100 for the first time.[21][11] After losing a tight Fed Cup final to the United States,[22] Sabalenka finished the season by winning the biggest title of her career at the time at the Mumbai Open, a WTA 125K event.[23] The title cemented her at No. 73 at the end of the year.[24]

2018: Newcomer of the Year, Premier 5 title[edit]

After playing relatively few WTA events in 2017, Sabalenka utilized her higher ranking to play exclusively on the WTA Tour in 2018.[25] She reached two quarterfinals to begin the year,[26][27] but lost her opening round match at the Australian Open to top-ranked Australian and world No. 18 Ashleigh Barty.[28] She then won her first matches at a Premier tournament with a third round appearance at the Indian Wells Open before the early-year hard court season came to a close, including a victory over No. 19 Svetlana Kuznetsova.[29][25]

Sabalenka began the clay court season by reaching a second career final at the Ladies Open Lugano, where she finished runner-up to No. 20 Elise Mertens.[30] This success also put her in the top 50 for the first time.[11] However, she did not win another match for the rest of the clay court season, including a first round defeat to No. 22 Kiki Bertens at the French Open.[31] Sabalenka had stronger results on grass, playing in tune-ups during each of the three weeks before Wimbledon. She made it to the quarterfinals at the Rosmalen Grass Court Championships and the final at the Premier-level Eastbourne International. At the latter event, she won five consecutive three set matches, including three over top 20 opponents and her first top ten victory against defending champion and world No. 7 Karolína Plíšková.[32] Sabalenka lost the final to world No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki.[33] For the third consecutive Grand Slam event, she went out in the first round at Wimbledon.[34]

During the North American hard court summer season, Sabalenka continued to rise through the rankings.[11] At the two Premier 5 tournaments, she reached the third round at the Canadian Open and the semifinals at the Cincinnati Open. In the former, she avenged her previous loss to world No. 2 Wozniacki for the biggest win of her career, hitting 64 winners during the match.[35] In the latter, she recorded two more top ten wins over No. 8 Plíšková and No. 5 Caroline Garcia before losing to world No. 1 Simona Halep.[36] Just a week later, Sabalenka won her first WTA title at the Premier-level Connecticut Open with wins over world No. 9 Julia Görges in the semifinal and Carla Suárez Navarro in the final.[37] Playing a fourth consecutive week, she closed out this part of the season with her best result at a Grand Slam tournament to date, making it to the fourth round at the US Open. In particular, she upset world No. 5 Petra Kvitová in the third round before losing to the eventual champion Naomi Osaka. She was the only player to win a set against Osaka in the tournament.[38][39]

After the US Open, Sabalenka earned her first No. 1 seed at the Tournoi de Québec, but lost her opening match.[31] Nonetheless, she followed this up by winning the Premier 5 level Wuhan Open, the biggest title of her career. During the event, she upset No. 6 Elina Svitolina in the second round and did not drop a set in any of her last four matches.[40][41] The following week, Sabalenka reached the quarterfinals of the China Open, a run that included a win over defending champion and No. 4 Caroline Garcia for her eighth top ten victory of the season.[42] This success in China helped her climb to No. 11 in the world.[11] At the end of the season, Sabalenka qualified for the WTA Elite Trophy, where she was grouped with Garcia and Ashleigh Barty. She defeated Barty to open the group, but lost to Garcia in the group's final match.[43] Barty, having defeated Garcia with fewer games lost, advanced out of the group through the tiebreak criteria to end Sabalenka's season.[44] Nonetheless, she was named the WTA Newcomer of the Year for her excellent performance in her first full year on the WTA Tour.[45]

2019: Top 10 debut in singles, world No. 2 in doubles[edit]

Singles: WTA Elite Trophy, three titles in China in total[edit]

Although Sabalenka once again struggled at the Grand Slam tournaments, she ultimately finished the year with the same year-end ranking as in 2018 on the strength of three titles, all in China. She began the season by winning her third career WTA title at the Shenzhen Open, defeating Alison Riske in the final in a tight three-set match. Due to rain delays in the earlier rounds, she needed to play both the semifinal and the final on the last day of the tournament.[46] However, she could not build on this success in the rest of the first half of the year. Sabalenka lost to 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova in straight sets at both the Australian Open and the French Open in the third and second rounds respectively.[47][48] She had been considered the third-leading favourite for the title at the Australian Open.[49] Nonetheless, she made her top 10 debut following the event.[11] Sabalenka fared worse at Wimbledon, losing her opening match to No. 139 Magdaléna Rybáriková.[50] In-between the Grand Slam tournaments, Sabalenka's best result was a semifinal loss to No. 8 Kiki Bertens at the Premier-level St. Petersburg Ladies' Trophy in February.[51] She also made the fourth round at the Indian Wells Open.[52] Her best result on clay was a semifinal at the Internationaux de Strasbourg in May.[53]

Sabalenka had a better second half of the season. In her first tournament following Wimbledon, she finished runner-up to Zheng Saisai at the Silicon Valley Classic, a Premier-level event.[54] She did not perform well at either Premier 5 tournament in August or the US Open, losing in the second round at the last Grand Slam tournament of the year.[55] Sabalenka returned to China following the US Open, and produced three strong results in four events. After a quarterfinal at the Zhengzhou Open, she defended her title at the Premier 5 Wuhan Open. During the event, she defeated No. 8 Kiki Bertens in the third round and No. 1 Ashleigh Barty in the semifinals, her first victory over a current world No. 1 player.[56] She won the final over Alison Riske.[57] At the end of the season, Sabalenka qualified for the WTA Elite Trophy for the second consecutive year. She swept her round robin group of Maria Sakkari and her doubles partner Elise Mertens.[58] In the knockout rounds, Sabalenka defeated Karolína Muchová and Bertens for her fifth career title, and her third title of the year in China.[59]

Doubles: US Open champion, Sunshine Double[edit]

Mertens and Sabalenka at the 2019 French Open

Sabalenka started the year ranked No. 73 in doubles.[11] She began partnering with Elise Mertens in January, when the pair lost to top seeds Barbora Krejčíková and Kateřina Siniaková in the third round of the Australian Open. They had their breakthrough in March at the two Premier Mandatory tournaments. In only their second tournament together, Sabalenka and Mertens won the Indian Wells Open. They defeated three of the top five seeds in the event, including second seeds Tímea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic in the first round and top seeds Krejčíková and Siniaková in the final.[60] The pair matched this success at their next event by winning the Miami Open to complete the Sunshine Double. They defeated three of the top six seeds, including third seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Barbora Strýcová in the second round. They won the final against sixth seeds Samantha Stosur and Zhang Shuai.[61] With these two titles, Sabalenka rose to No. 21 in the world.[11]

Sabalenka and Mertens continued to partner together throughout the year, entering eleven events before the year-end championships. Whereas Sabalenka did not have much success in the Grand Slam singles events, she produced much better results in doubles. Sabalenka and Mertens reached the semifinals at the French Open, losing to second seeds Babos and Mladenovic.[62] They then reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, losing to third seeds Hsieh and Strýcová.[63] These were Sabalenka's first two appearances in at least the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam event. Sabalenka and Mertens had their best result of the year at the US Open. As the fourth seeds at the event, they made it to the final without having to play another top ten seeded team. In the final, they faced eighth seeds Victoria Azarenka and Ashleigh Barty, the latter of whom had won the title a year earlier with CoCo Vandeweghe. Sabalenka and Mertens defeated Azarenka and Barty in straight sets for their first career Grand Slam title in any discipline.[64] With this title, Sabalenka made her top 10 debut in doubles at No. 6 in the world.[11]

Sabalenka and Mertens made one more final during the year, finishing runner-up at the Wuhan Open where Sabalenka won the singles title.[65] Their three big titles helped them win the Race to Shenzhen and qualify for the WTA Finals as the top seeds. Before the event, Sabalenka and Mertens moved up to No. 2 and No. 3 in the rankings respectively behind only world No. 1 Barbora Strýcová.[11] At the WTA Finals, the pair were placed in a round robin group with third seeds Babos and Mladenovic, fifth seeds Chan Hao-ching and Latisha Chan, as well as eighth seeds Anna-Lena Grönefeld and Demi Schuurs. In their opening match, they were upset by Grönefeld and Schuurs in a match tiebreak.[66] After defeating the Chan sisters, Sabalenka and Mertens lost to Babos and Mladenovic in another match tiebreak and did not advance out of their group.[67]

National representation[edit]

Fed Cup[edit]

Early appearances[edit]

Sabalenka represented Belarus at the Junior Fed Cup in 2014, with the team finishing in 6th place.[68] She then made her senior Fed Cup debut for Belarus in April 2016, losing a dead rubber doubles match against Russia. Nonetheless, the Belarusian team led by Victoria Azarenka and Aliaksandra Sasnovich won the tie to qualify for the top-tier World Group the following season for the first time in their history.[12]

2017: Surprise runner-up in World Group debut[edit]

The Belarus Fed Cup team made their debut in the World Group and ultimately reached the final, despite being the underdogs in all three ties.[69][70] Little was expected from the team because they were without their veteran leader Azarenka, who missed the first two ties on maternity leave and the last because of a custody battle.[71] Without her, Belarus was led by Sabalenka and Sasnovich, neither of whom had ever been ranked above No. 76 by the time of the final.[11][72] However, they did have the advantage of playing all of their ties at home in Minsk.[69][70]

The ties in the quarterfinals against the Netherlands in February and the semifinals against Switzerland in April both played out in the same way. While Sabalenka lost her opening matches to their opponents' respective top-ranked players of Kiki Bertens and Timea Bacsinszky, Sasnovich was able to give Belarus a 2–1 lead in each instance.[73] Sabalenka then clinched both ties, with wins over Michaëlla Krajicek and No. 54 Viktorija Golubic respectively.[74][75] She was only ranked No. 125 at the time of the semifinal, with no career WTA match wins outside of Fed Cup.[76]

"I've never felt so much emotion in a match. When you play at home and you are down 0–1 and you have to win and you fight with yourself... I just started crying because it was such an important match."

—Sabalenka on her Fed Cup rubber win over Stephens.[77]

On the opening day of the final against the United States, Sabalenka upset the reigning US Open champion and world No. 13 Sloane Stephens to level the tie after Sasnovich lost her first rubber to No. 10 CoCo Vandeweghe.[78][77] The next day began with Sabalenka losing to Vandeweghe, before Sasnovich again leveled the tie by defeating Stephens. Sabalenka and Sasnovich were then selected for the decisive doubles rubber for the Fed Cup crown, but the duo were defeated by Vandeweghe and Shelby Rogers.[22]

Despite finishing as runner-up, Belarus's Fed Cup success helped popularize women's tennis in Belarus, and vaulted Sabalenka and Sasnovich into international prominence. Sasnovich said, "When we played the quarterfinals and semifinals in Minsk, a lot of people were coming to see our matches. They finally saw tennis in life, and it’s like a popularization... I want my country to improve even more in tennis, because I think we can have even more from Belarus."[79]

2018–19: Avoiding demotion, another semifinal[edit]

Belarus was unable to repeat their 2017 Fed Cup success in 2018. Their quarterfinal tie was held in Minsk against Germany. Although Sabalenka won both of her singles rubbers, Sasnovich and Vera Lapko lost each of theirs to set up a decisive doubles rubber. Sabalenka and doubles specialist Lidziya Marozava were selected for the match, with Sabalenka playing on short rest directly after her last singles match. After taking the first set against Anna-Lena Grönefeld and Tatjana Maria, they ultimately lost the rubber and the tie.[80]

Their next tie was again contested in Minsk as part of the World Group Play-offs, with Slovakia competing to take Belarus's place in the World Group the following season. Sabalenka and Sasnovich each split their two singles rubbers, with Sabalenka being upset by Viktória Kužmová.[81] Doubles specialists Lapko and Marozava were chosen for the final rubber and the pair won the match to keep Belarus in the World Group for 2019.[82]

In the 2019 Fed Cup, Belarus were drawn against Germany in the quarterfinals for the second consecutive year. After Sasnovich won the opening rubber against Maria, Sabalenka won both of her singles rubbers against Andrea Petkovic and Laura Siegemund to clinch the tie.[83] They advanced to face Australia in the semifinals. Only two players from each team participated: Sabalenka and Azarenka for Belarus, and Ashleigh Barty and Samantha Stosur for Australia. Both Sabalenka and Azarenka defeated Stosur, but lost to Barty. In the decisive doubles rubber, Barty and Stosur won in three sets to eliminate Belarus.[84]

Playing style[edit]

Sabalenka serving

Sabalenka is an aggressive baseliner.[85] She has a powerful serve and her game is built around going for groundstroke winners. She has said "I hope all my shots can be strong, but my serve, I feel is the best."[2] Her groundstrokes are often hit very flat.[86] Tennis broadcaster and former professional player Mary Carillo praised the power in her style of play along with her fierce attitude, describing her game as "big babe tennis personified".[87] Although Sabalenka has the ability to hit a lot of winners, they are often accompanied by a lot of unforced errors. In her first career top ten victory against Karolína Plíšková, she hit 40 winners and 39 unforced errors.[86] Her second career top ten victory against Caroline Wozniacki was similar, featuring 64 winners and 54 unforced errors.[35] Her coach Dmitry Tursunov credits her improvement in the summer of 2018 on developing better shot selection. He said, "The major thing is she stopped trying [to] hit a winner with every shot."[88]

Sabalenka prefers playing on grass and hard courts. She commented, "This year [in 2017] I played for the first time on grass courts [during Wimbledon]. And I really liked it. I enjoyed my game on the grass courts, the feeling of grass, that's nice. I think my game is suited for grass and for hard courts."[2] On clay, she made both the singles and doubles finals at the 2018 Ladies Open Lugano.[89]

Sabalenka frequently accompanies her shots with loud grunting. She has said, "Honestly, I don’t even hear myself when I am playing." However, she has expressed her hopes that her grunting has no disturbance on her opponents.[90] At the Australian Open, the home crowd mocked her habit in a match against Australian Ashleigh Barty.[28]

Coaches[edit]

Sabalenka had worked with Khalil Ibrahimov for two years up until early 2018. At this point, she began working with former Swedish professional tennis players Magnus Norman and Magnus Tideman.[91][92] Dmitry Tursunov became her primary coach in time for the grass court season in 2018.[93]

Personal life[edit]

Sabalenka has a tiger tattoo on her left arm. This tattoo has earned her the nickname "The Tiger", which she has used to refer to herself.[94][95][96] Sabalenka has studied at the Belarusian State University in a sports-related program.[3] Her tennis idols growing up were Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.[90]

Career statistics[edit]

Key
W  F  SF QF #R RR Q# A NH
(W) Won; (F) finalist; (SF) semifinalist; (QF) quarterfinalist; (#R) rounds 4, 3, 2, 1; (RR) round-robin stage; (Q#) qualification round; (A) absent; (NH) not held. SR=strike rate (events won/competed)
To avoid confusion and double counting, these charts are updated at the conclusion of a tournament or when the player's participation has ended.

Performance timelines[edit]

Singles[edit]

Tournament 2016 2017 2018 2019 SR W–L Win %
Australian Open A Q2 1R 3R 0 / 2 2–2 50%
French Open A Q1 1R 2R 0 / 2 1–2 33%
Wimbledon A 2R 1R 1R 0 / 3 1–3 25%
US Open Q2 Q1 4R 2R 0 / 2 4–2 67%
Win–Loss 0–0 1–1 3–4 4–4 0 / 9 8–9 47%

Doubles[edit]

Tournament 2016 2017 2018 2019 SR W–L Win %
Australian Open A A 1R 3R 0 / 2 2–2 50%
French Open A A A SF 0 / 1 4–1 80%
Wimbledon A A 2R QF 0 / 2 4–2 67%
US Open A A 3R W 1 / 2 8–1 89%
Win–Loss 0–0 0–0 3–3 15–3 1 / 7 18–6 75%

Grand Slam finals[edit]

Doubles: 1 (1 title)[edit]

Result Year Tournament Surface Partner Opponent Score
Win 2019 US Open Hard Belgium Elise Mertens Belarus Victoria Azarenka
Australia Ashleigh Barty
7–5, 7–5

Premier Mandatory/Premier 5 finals[edit]

Singles: 2 (2 titles)[edit]

Result Year Tournament Surface Opponent Score
Win 2018 Wuhan Open Hard Estonia Anett Kontaveit 6–3, 6–3
Win 2019 Wuhan Open (2) Hard United States Alison Riske 6–3, 3–6, 6–1

Doubles: 3 (2 titles, 1 runner-up)[edit]

Result Year Tournament Surface Partner Opponent Score
Win 2019 Indian Wells Open Hard Belgium Elise Mertens Czech Republic Barbora Krejčíková
Czech Republic Kateřina Siniaková
6–3, 6–2
Win 2019 Miami Open Hard Belgium Elise Mertens Australia Samantha Stosur
China Zhang Shuai
7–6(7–5), 6–2
Loss 2019 Wuhan Open Hard Belgium Elise Mertens China Duan Yingying
Russia Veronika Kudermetova
6–7(3–7), 2–6

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

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