Occasionally, a vacation is preferable to a change. Aryna Sabalenka’s absence from Wimbledon last year due to the ban on Russian and Belarusian competitors gave her a chance to breathe and reset. After reaching the semifinals of this tournament in 2021, her career was on the verge of derailing, with her serve failing and her psyche imploding.
On Wednesday, having already won her first grand slam title of the year at the Australian Open, the Belarusian defeated Madison Keys 6-2, 6-4 to advance to her fourth consecutive grand slam semifinal.
Ons Jabeur forms a fist after defeating Elena Rybakina in the quarterfinals of women’s singles.
Ons Jabeur defeats Elena Rybakina to avenge her 2022 championship loss.
“I was very disappointed that I was unable to compete here last year.” But at the same time I was thinking, ‘OK, it’s a good time to reset and start over,'” Sabalenka said after advancing to the semifinals against Ons Jabeur, who avenged her loss to Elena Rybakina in last year’s final.
“Before grass season [in 2022], I was not at my best on the tennis court. I struggled greatly with my service, these emotions, and a great deal of other things. I simply utilized that time as preparation and as a brief diversion. Everything began to function better. I believe that during those three or four weeks, I did excellent work, which aided me at the US Open.
“Then I began to believe in myself more; I began to play better; I began to feel better on the court; and I began to feel better emotionally.” I believe that this period gave me so much self-confidence. I was very depressed, but I thought, “This is probably something I really needed.”
Sabalenka began well against Keys, breaking serve in the opening game’s first six minutes with a powerful volley. Keys scored to make the score 2-1, but after being broken again for 4-1, he consulted a physician and took medication.
Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed, quickly closed up the set, but Keys, in her second quarterfinal here, fought back well, and when she broke serve and led 4-2, 40-0 in the second, it appeared as though she would force a third set.
Sabalenka regained her form, sweeping 12 consecutive games to reclaim the lead. Sabalenka secured the victory with an unreturnable serve, despite the fact that Keys saved a match point by returning a poor volley over the baseline.
“Clearly a very difficult day,” said Keys. “I believe Aryna performed exceptionally well. In the second set, I failed to capitalize on opportunities. Sometimes such is the case. Overall, it was a very successful tournament for me.”
Should Sabalenka defeat Jabeur, she will achieve one of her lifelong goals and become world No. 1 for the first time. The other goal is to win Wimbledon, which she has envisioned since she was small.
“When I was 14 or 15 years old, I remember practicing with headphones on while listening to music and dreaming of becoming one of the best players in the world and lifting this beautiful trophy,” she explained. “The fact that I was able to become one of the greatest is something that really motivates me. I compete at the highest level. I will do everything possible to win this magnificent trophy.”
Sabalenka’s decision to calm her mind may be the greatest decision she’s made in the past year. When she used to be visibly tense after every missed shot, she now smiles more frequently when things get tight and the pressure increases. Even if she cries, the situation is under control. Now it’s simply a matter of calming the notions of becoming number one or reclaiming the title.
“I want both, but I’m focusing on myself because I know that if I start thinking about all these things, I’ll lose my concentration on the court and my game. Consequently, I endeavor to play my best tennis every time I step onto the court. Then we’ll determine whether I’m ready to become world No. 1 or to compete in another final.”