As she gears up to compete in her first singles Grand Slam championship at the Australian Open, get to know the Belarusian tennis star with Boardroom.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Following the initial publication of this story, Sabalenka defeated Elena Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to win the 2023 Australian Open women’s singles title on Jan. 28.
Last year’s Grand Slam tour marked a revolutionary moment in women’s tennis. Several names that went vastly unrecognized in prior seasons were suddenly grabbing the attention of fans and analysts alike.
Despite having been once ranked No. 2 in the world, Aryna Sabalenka was still an obscure face. With the likes of Serena Williams and Ashleigh Barty and more transitioning out of the competitive tennis spotlight, supporters are turning their attention to the next big star they can toss their support behind for the next decade.
Sabalenka might still be an unknown personality to some, but catch her all over television screens when she takes on last year’s Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in Saturday’s Australian Open final.
So, who is Aryna Sabalenka, the current world No. 5? You’ve got questions, Boardroom has answers.
Early Days of Aryna Sabalenka
Born in Belarus, Sabalenka started playing tennis at the age of 6. In the now 24-year-old’s own words, her introduction to the sport was unintentional. Sabalenka’s late father and she were driving when they stumbled upon 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 said in 2017 to First Post.
Guess you can say it was a happy accident because her training officially began in 2014 at the National Tennis Academy in her birth city of Minsk. Later that year in Istanbul, Sabalenka won her first professional match. Her first two titles would come in back-to-back competitions and, to close out a successful campaign, a final award complete with a $25,000 cash prize and her official entry into the top 300 of the WTA rankings.
Fun fact: Throughout Sabalenka’s career, she’s earned the nickname “The Tiger,” thanks to a tiger tattoo on her left arm.
Fast-forward to the Australian Open
It’s no fluke that Sabalenka is in the finals of this year’s Aussie Open. She closed the 2021 season ranked No. 2 in the world, claiming two titles at Abu Dhabi and Madrid. She also reached three semifinals, two at Wimbledon and the US Open.
Her doubles game is even more remarkable: Teaming up with Elise Mertens, Sabalenka lifted the 2021 Australian Open doubles trophy. Two years prior, she claimed her first doubles Grand Slam win in a 7-5, 7-5 against Victoria Azarenka and Ash Barty in the US Open.
Crediting Williams and Maria Sharapova as her idols growing up, it’s safe to say the Wilson athlete has picked up a few of their tactics along the way. Like the 23-time Grand Slam champion, Sabalenka has a strong serve, but it hasn’t always been like this. Andrea Petkovic said she trained with Sabalenka during last year’s US Open and remarked on the improvements she made to fine-tune the skill.
“When we practiced at the US Open, Aryna was still shaky on serve but started working with a sports scientist AND bio-scientist on-site. She spent hours just serving and analyzing her flaws in advanced contexts,” Petkovic said, via Alex Boroch.
Something that was once her own worst enemy in the past could in fact be the reason Sabalenka finally calls herself a Grand Slam champion in 2023. Elena Rybakina won’t be an easy victory, but whoever prevails will be able to call herself a first-time singles Australian Open champion.
Who is Aryna Sabalenka?
*Stats updated in advance of 2023 Australian Open Finals
- Age: 24
- Nationality: Belarusan
- Height: 6-feet
- Career prize money: $12,302,010
- Singles record: 309-160
- Singles titles: 0
- Key endorsements: Nike, Wilson
- Twitter followers: 55.3K
- Instagram followers: 419K
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