Aryna Sabalenka had one of the strangest seasons on record in 2022, part car crash, part perseverance tutorial, the Belarusian powerhouse seemed to always find herself with one foot in the doldrums and the other on the border of ecstasy.
Plagued by double-faults and sagging confidence, she was seen by some as a broken player who may never recover, but those who watched her closely could see a transformation taking place. Not only was Sabalenka, never a shrinking violet in the first place, not going away, she was evolving and improving through the chaos.
She reached the semis at the US Open and the title round at the WTA Finals in Fort Worth, just to give the doubters something to think about.
This year the 24-year-old has started out the season on a high note, winning her 11th career title in Adelaide and displaying a newfound ease and rising confidence.
Sabalenka, who defeated Tereza Martincova on Day 1 in Melbourne, believes that her best may have yet to come, and she’s playing like it. She will face American Shelby Rogers in round two.
Asked on court what it would take for her to rise to the next level, the former World No.2 hinted that she beleves she’s getting closer.
“I think I need to work on my mindset,” she said. “I have to be calm and I have to just fight for every point and not get upset with every mistake I’m making – I really believe that this is the only thing missing in my game.”
That is the discovery that Sabalenka needed to make, for herself and her peace of mind, and for her tennis. Of course it’s never that simple, but Sabalenka seems to have arrived at a new perch in her career, one where she can benefit by looking out and taking stock of past mistakes.
No one knows better than her what has plagued her in big moments, and no one but her can remedy things.
She appears dead set on doing that this season.
“I think just because of the last year and because I was struggling with a lot of things, and just because I was able to fix all the problems I was facing last year, and of course after a title, of course I felt like a little bit more confidence,” Sabalenka said on Tuesday. “I just feel that I have everything in my pocket, and I just have to show that.”
It should be noted that Sabalenka has been on the right path all along. Yes, she’s sabotaged herself at times, but over the last two seasons she has reached three Grand Slam semifinals, after going through her first 14 majors without ever making it to the round of 16….