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Aryna Siarhiejeŭna Sabalenka (Belarusian: Арына Сяргееўна Сабаленка; Russian: Арина Сергеевна Соболенко, Arina Sergeyevna Sobolenko, born 5 May 1998) is a professional tennis player from Belarus. She rose to prominence after leading the Belarus Fed Cup team to a runner-up finish in 2017 with Aliaksandra Sasnovich, despite both of them being ranked outside the top 75 at the time. Sabalenka has won four Women's Tennis Association (WTA) titles. She has a career-high WTA ranking of No. 9 in the world, which she achieved in February 2019.

Aryna Sabalenka,
Арына Сабаленка
Sabalenka WM18 (3) (30063199288).jpg
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$4,090,256
Official websitearynasabalenka.com
Singles
Career record173–94 (64.8%)
Career titles4 WTA, 1 WTA 125K, 5 ITF
Highest rankingNo. 9 (4 February 2019)
Current rankingNo. 16 (7 October 2019)
Grand Slam Singles results
Australian Open3R (2019)
French Open2R (2019)
Wimbledon2R (2017)
US Open4R (2018)
Doubles
Career record42–43 (49.4%)
Career titles3 WTA, 1 WTA 125K, 1 ITF
Highest rankingNo. 5 (30 September 2019)
Current rankingNo. 5 (7 October 2019)
Grand Slam Doubles results
Australian Open3R (2019)
French OpenSF (2019)
WimbledonQF (2019)
US OpenW (2019)
Grand Slam Mixed Doubles results
Wimbledon2R (2019)
Team competitions
Fed CupF (2017)
Last updated on: 9 September 2019.

Sabalenka is a native of Minsk. She was unheralded as a junior and relatively unknown before her Fed Cup success as a teenager. 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 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.

Early life and backgroundEdit

Sabalenka was born on 5 May 1998 in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Her father Sergey 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 careerEdit

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 careerEdit

2012–16: Top 200, Fed Cup debutEdit

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 100Edit

 
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 titleEdit

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, Sunshine Double and first Major in doublesEdit

Sabalenka 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] She then entered the Sydney International where she lost in the first round to the 5th seed and eventual champion Petra Kvitová.[47] Leading into the 2019 Australian Open, Sabalenka was favoured to be a contender for the title, but she was defeated in the third round by Amanda Anisimova. Nonetheless, getting through to the third round of the Australian Open confirmed her top ten debut. On March 16, 2019, Sabalenka together with her new doubles partner Elise Mertens won the Indian Wells Masters doubles title, beating World Number 1 pair Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova in two straight sets.[48] On March 31, 2019 they subsequently won the Miami Open, beating sixth seeded Samantha Stosur and Zhang Shuai, completing the prestigious Sunshine Double in doubles.[49]

Sabalenka reached the second round of the French Open, but was defeated by Anisimova in straight sets once again.[50]

National representationEdit

Fed CupEdit

Early appearancesEdit

Sabalenka represented Belarus at the Junior Fed Cup in 2014, with the team finishing in 6th place.[51] 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 debutEdit

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.[52][53] 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.[54] 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][55] However, they did have the advantage of playing all of their ties at home in Minsk.[52][53]

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.[56] Sabalenka then clinched both ties, with wins over Michaëlla Krajicek and No. 54 Viktorija Golubic respectively.[57][58] She was only ranked No. 125 at the time of the semifinal, with no career WTA match wins outside of Fed Cup.[59]

"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.[60]

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.[61][60] 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."[62]

2018: Avoiding demotionEdit

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.[63]

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.[64] 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.[65]

2019Edit

Sabalenka has contributed towards a successful beginning of the 2019 edition of Fed Cup for the Belarusian team. During the quarterfinals of the world group held at Volkswagen Halle, Braunschweig, Germany on 9-10 February, Belarus has defeated Germany (4-0) with Sabalenka ensuring two victories. First, over Andrea Petkovic and then over Laura Siegemund, losing only 5 games in both matches.

Playing styleEdit

Sabalenka is an aggressive baseliner.[66] 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.[67] Although she 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.[67] 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."[68]

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.[69]

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.[70] At the Australian Open, the home crowd mocked her habit in a match against Australian Ashleigh Barty.[28]

CoachesEdit

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.[71][72] Dmitry Tursunov became her primary coach in time for the grass court season in 2018.[73]

Personal lifeEdit

Sabalenka studies at the Belarusian State University in a sports-related program.[3] Her tennis idols growing up were Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.[70]

Career statisticsEdit

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 timelinesEdit

SinglesEdit

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%

DoublesEdit

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 finalsEdit

Doubles: 1 (1 title)Edit

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

Premier Mandatory/Premier 5 finalsEdit

Singles: 2 (2 titles)Edit

Result Year Tournament Surface Opponent Score
Win 2018 Wuhan Open Hard   Anett Kontaveit 6–3, 6–3
Win 2019 Wuhan Open (2) Hard   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   Elise Mertens   Barbora Krejčíková
  Kateřina Siniaková
6–3, 6–2
Win 2019 Miami Open Hard   Elise Mertens   Samantha Stosur
  Zhang Shuai
7–6(7–5), 6–2
Loss 2019 Wuhan Open Hard   Elise Mertens   Duan Yingying
  Veronika Kudermetova
6–7(3–7), 2–6

ReferencesEdit

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External linksEdit