Aryna Sabalenka Dreams of Tigers

“I was always dreaming about tattoos and I was dreaming about tigers. It happened for one week, two weeks, three weeks and then one day I woke up and said, “Okay, I’m going to do this. I’m going to get this tiger tattoo.”—Aryna Sabalenka

January, 2022: A tiger blocks Sabalenka’s path. Fear, then more fear. She cannot move. Her nightmare begins: the worst service yips in history. Her fans and supporters crying at first, then laughing wildly, as her serves land everywhere: beyond the baseline, way out wide, bottom of the net. The tiger  growls, then roars. Super soft serves, underhand serves.  

It’s a few weeks before the 2022 Aussie Open. Sabalenka confronts the fear. There is a technical glitch in her second serve, yes, but the bigger problem is uncontrolled desire. She wanted to win so badly she often lost control when things did not go her way. Tightness, nerves. Wild emotional swings. Panic, even, when she would miss a shot she would have to hit again. She  needed to learn breath, calmness. She needed to learn one of the great secrets of tennis: short-term memory loss to avoid the resulting scar tissue.  She needed to tame the tiger within while allowing the tiger to be the tiger it is. As Sabalenka put it: “I’m the tiger. I don’t need to be afraid of something, I just need to go for it.”

January-March, 2023: Go for it she did, becoming the tiger of her dreams by winning her first major: the 2023 Australian Open. No one has turned around so big a service problem so quickly. She wins again and again and again till she’s in the final of Indian Wells. 10 doubles faults in the first set, two on set points. She begins the second set in tears, slows her serve way down to avoid double faults. She loses the match. Aryna Sabalenka dreams of tigers.

*There was also a technical problem on her second serve she needed to confront and fix. She did so by bringing in serve experts to help her hit up on the ball and get more topspin and safety on her second serve.

To get weekly posts every Thursday with original art and innovative writing on tennis, please subscribe below:

Happy to announce that this blog has been named one of Feedspot’s top tennis blogs, websites & influencers of 2023.

Leave a Reply