Forget the Yips – Sabalenka Rips On Laver Aryna

Photo by Getty Images

Bill Simons

Every point in tennis begins with the serve. It’s the core stroke of the game and the only shot players totally control. For many it’s a key weapon. 

But for Aryna Sabalenka it was a recurring nightmare. In 2022 she was struck by an incredible case of the yips. In the first game of a match she double faulted six times. In one outing she double faulted 19 times. She averaged 15 double faults per match – almost the equivalent of four games per match. Last year she double faulted over 400 times. 

Her lapses brought to mind both the former Dodger second baseman Steve Sax, who out of nowhere had trouble tossing the ball to first base, and at least to some degree, Jana Novotna, who sadly, on the brink of victory, collapsed in the 1993 Wimbledon final.

Sabalenka resorted to underarm serves. At one tourney the ump asked her if she was injured. Aryna called on a serve specialist and worked on her biomechanics. She also hired a sports psychologist.

She seemed to have gotten over her yips. She fired her sports psychologist, insisting she had to figure it out herself. She pointed to her head and said, “I think it’s all about up here. I was thinking a lot about my serve and was trying to control everything, but this isn’t how it works. I have muscle memory and so I just have to trust myself.”

Aryna, who’s based in Miami, reached No. 2 in the world in singles and No. 1 in doubles. She had three runs to the semis of Slams, but never won. She’d never gotten beyond the fourth round in Melbourne, but, at this year’s Aussie Open, she blasted her way to the finals without losing a set. There she met the hard-hitting Wimbledon champ, the Russian-born Kazak Elena Rybakina.

But, as if on cue, she double faulted on her first serve. “There was a complete murmur in the crowd: ‘Oh, no!’” noted courtside reporter Rennae Stubbs. “They don’t want to see that old ghost revisited,” said Chris Fowler.

At the past two Melbourne finals, first time Slam finalists Danielle Collins and Jen Brady failed to emerge. And in her first major final, Aryna, a 6’, broad-shouldered Belarusian, came up short in the first set 6-4, in part because of her five double faults.

But she retained her composure, hit out, showed great anticipation, constructed beautiful points and claimed the second set 6-3. Then she scored a key break in the seventh game of the tight third set. Along with her imposing groundies, her serve proved to be a huge asset. Thanks to a barrage of 51 winners and a newfound composure, she prevailed in a stunning power fest that was the match of the women’s tournament. On her fourth match point the oh-so-strong yet vulnerable Aryna gained her eleventh straight win of the year, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. 

She fell to the ground. Her chest heaved, tears flowed. Some dubbed Rod Laver Arena Rod Laver Aryna. Past dips and yips were forgotten – today Sabalenka ripped. Now No. 2 in the world, the glowing 24-year-old said, “This is crazy…I think Australia loves me…This is the best day of my life…I actually feel happy that I lost those matches, so right now I can be a different player and just a different Aryna…I really needed those tough losses to…understand myself a little bit better.”



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