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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Wednesday January 13, 2020


Through all the trials and tribulations that she has endured during a turbulent relationship with former coach Dmitry Tursunov, Aryna Sabalenka wasn’t able to stumble upon the secret that would truly unlock her game.

Tennis Express

First, let’s be clear: the partnership with Tursunov was brilliant and the relationship helped Sabalenka take her tennis to the next level, but now that it’s over it is more than clear that Sabalenka’s talents were the driver of the relationship. In recent months under the tutelage of former hitting partner and now full-time coach Anton Dubrov, Sabalenka is learning that she doesn’t need Tursunov to slay her way through WTA draws—everything she needs is inside her, all the weapons, all the desire and, yes, the mental toughness as well.

"I think I put my focus on the right space," she said after her semifinal win over Maria Sakkari. "I'm just focusing on the right things and this helped me to, first of all, not think about all these wins, and secondly to keep winning. I think I just need to keep focusing on my game, keep focusing on the movement on the court and just try to do everything I can in the moment, and I think this works really well with me."

It’s beautiful to see a powerhouse, a gifted physical phenomenon like Sabalenka finally hit a level so convincing.

Make no mistake about it, the Belarusian has always been a jaw-dropping talent. She has always been a player that can take the racket out of anybody’s hands on the WTA tour. And she’s always been very VERY good. So good that most believed that if she had won that classic battle with Naomi Osaka in the round of 16 at the 2018 US Open, it very well could have been her that took home the title that year.


Sabalenka entered this week with eight titles to her name and she’s only 22 years old – that pretty much tells you all you need to know about her potential.

Still, with all that talent, the tennis world has taken notice that Sabalenka has yet to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal in 12 previous appearances.

How can that be?

Never mind, because Sabalenka looks ready to end that run of underperformance thanks to a newfound lease on life. She's more interested in improving her game than getting results - a new development.

"This really helps me to stay focused on the match and to be actually calm on the court and not care about losing, I just keep improving myself and that's what makes me first of all happy and secondly to be on this level."

In recent months certain realizations made by Sabalenka are making her more lethal than ever. Now, rather than sweat the small stuff and stress over the minutia of matches, she’s fully focused on one simple goal: the quest to improve her game.

Funny as it sounds, Sabalenka isn’t necessarily hungry for wins right now. And that’s part of the reason that she has been able to rack up 15 of them in succession. What she is searching for is better tennis. Of course that is the quest that all tennis players are on. But not all tennis players arrive at that quest in a way that can be liberating. If you take her at her word, Sabalenka is one of those players.

Pretty much all elements of her game, in her opinion, are works in progress at the moment. And that’s the secret sauce that is enabling Sabalenka to continue to plow through her opponents as if they were feeble blades of grass and she the finely sharpened scythe.

All players must arrive at their best selves in their own unique way. Sabalenka is no exception. She needed time to unclutter her mind and to discover the joy of being herself on the tennis court. It seems now, more than ever, that she is learning to embrace the tools that she possesses and enjoy the process of fine-tuning them and using them to solve problems against elite level opponents.

Aryna Sabalenka is just being herself: A lethal destroyer of the tennis ball, a veritable tour de force that was dubbed the “warrior princess” by tennis broadcaster Mary Carillo for good reason.

Of course the ultimate test will be at the grand slams were Sabalenka has yet to fully take flight. Perhaps the reason that has not happened yet is the fact that she hasn’t been as comfortable in her own skin as she is now. She comes off as a more accepting more understanding player on the court these days.

"My biggest dream of course is to win a Grand Slam. I think we all here have the same dreams, so nothing really special,” she said. "But overall the plan is to work and improve my game.”

Still, she hasn’t faced much adversity and things could unravel quickly if they don’t go her way in a pressure cooker situation. But there’s no doubt that she’s taken a giant step in the right direction over the last few months. You look at a player with her talents at her age and with her experience and you have to think she’s a lock for grand slam glory at some point in the not too distant future.

The news here is not that Sabalenka has reeled off 15 consecutive wins and now holds nine career titles. The real story here is that she’s finding something that will enable her to sustain this level.

That’s great news for Sabalenka and a very worrying development for anybody facing her from across the net.

 

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