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Sabalenka: Someone Help Me Fix this F--king Serve!

By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, January 22, 2023

Tuning up her once volatile serve has helped Aryna Sabalenka orchestrate her best Australian Open run.

A cry for help from Sabalenka last summer was the start of refining her serving biomechanics.

More: Streaking Sabalenka Beats Bencic

A sharp Sabalenka surrendered just seven points on first serve and pumped four aces against four double faults beating Belinda Bencic 7-5, 6-2 to advance to her first AO quarterfinal today. 

Tennis Express

Last year, Sabalenka struggled with a serve that was a mess at times. Clean-up time came last summer.

After clanking more than 300 double faults in her first 37 matches last season, Sabalenka grew so frustrated she recalls her primal plea for assistance: "someone help me fix this f--king serve."

"Before I wouldn't be really open for that. I would be like, You know what, my serve is fine, I don't want to change anything," Sabalenka said. "Actually, even when my serve was working, it wasn't really right. I'm super happy that it's happened to me. I was, like, in that moment open for whatever.

"I was just like, Please, someone help me to fix this f--king serve. I'm sorry for swearing, but this is how it was. This is the true feeling. Yeah, I learnt a lot, a lot new stuff about my serve."

She's showing it down under. Sabalenka raised her 2023 record to 8-0, sweeping all 16 sets she's played.

Through four AO victories, Sabalenka is winning 79 percent of her first-serve points, which is second women still competing behind Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina (82 percent). Sabalenka has hit 14 aces against 11 double faults in her four AO wins.

A primary lesson Sabalenka learned was that her disease of double faults and unruly yips was not mental, as she initially thought, but biomechanical.

Working with a biomechanics coach, Sabalenka said she's smoothed her service motion and is using her bigger muscles more effectively. Sabalenka has also seemed to tame her toss.

"I've done a lot. I worked so hard," Sabalenka said. "Even when my serve was—ow did you say—'disaster'? I worked a lot on my serve. I was keep trying, keep believing, keep changing. Then I worked on my, like, biomechanic.

"Basically that's it. But I was doing everything. I thought it's mentally, but it wasn't. We changed a lot of things on how we work on my serve. We tried to work more, less. We tried to, I don't know, so many different things. In the end of the season when I start working with the biomechanic guy, he helped me a lot. I think from there, everything starts to kind of getting on that level."

The former world No. 2 said studying video of her service motion helped her see suggestions her coach was making and apply them. 

"We watched a lot of videos. He was just showing what's not really right about my serve, there's no way I can put it in. Just a lot of videos, a lot of talking, a lot of trying things," Sabalenka said. "I remember first day we worked, I couldn't - how to say - like the time went so quick. We were on the court for an hour and a half serving, serving. Because of the biomechanic, I didn't spend so much energy. Everything was more smoother."

Sabalenka will need to sustain her stinging serving when she faces Donna Vekic in the quarterfinals.

Vekic, who possesses a big serve too, has won five of six prior meetings vs. Sabalenka.

Photo credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty