WATCH: After a brutal start to 2022, Sabalenka first began to show improvements on clay in Stuttgart.


FORT WORTH, Texas—Aryna Sabalenka long pointed to her tiger tattoo as a testament to her fighting spirit, but only discovered the depths of her inner strength after an arduous 2022 season.

“For this year, definitely, I became more of a fighter than I used to be,” Sabalenka said during WTA Finals Media Day.

“Before it was just, like, nice tattoo. I was, just like, ‘Yeah, I fight because everything is working for me.’ You know, it's different kind of fight.”

Plenty had gone right for the former world No. 2 in 2021, highlighted by back-to-back Grand Slam semifinals at Wimbledon and the US Open. With many expecting Sabalenka to challenge top-ranked Ashleigh Barty at the Australian Open, the 24-year-old found herself without a serve—yipping badly despite reaching the fourth round and continuing to underperform through the Sunshine Swing of Indian Wells and Miami.

“This year I was fighting with myself, which is completely different fight, and I learned a lot about myself,” Sabalenka continued. “I think this season start as the worst season, but at the end I think it was the best season for me because I learned a lot, and I became even stronger, and like mentally stronger.”

Despite some especially unaesthetic matches, Sabalenka never fell out of the Top 10, something she wryly attributes to those around her.

This year I was fighting with myself, which is completely different fight, and I learned a lot about myself. Aryna Sabalenka

“I really think that overall all the top players just dropped a little bit at the beginning of the season, and that's why I didn't drop so much.”

What may have had more to do with it was Sabalenka and Co.’s willingness to seek outside voices and problem-solve: first taking advice from famed Aussie server Mark Philippousis, she later sought biomechanic help from performance coach Gavin MacMillan. By the US Open, the serve was fully back in her arsenal, helping her roared into the semifinals and essentially clinch a return to the WTA Finals.

“I think I just got all my points from that clay court season, then some of them at the US Open.

“But, yeah, being in the Top 10 and even with such a tough year, this is something incredible. I never say that, but I really proud of myself, how I handle all of these challenges, and I'm proud of my team that they were there and they just support me.”


A supportive team, but also Sabalenka’s inimitable sense of humor, on display as she looks towards the heavens—half-anticipating a cartoon anvil or piano.

“I don't know what else can happen, what can really put me under stress, you know? Of course, after you saying that, something is going to happen! But please God, I'm good for the challenges this year!”

A more familiar challenge awaits Sabalenka on Monday: No. 2 seed Ons Jabeur, giving the tour’s tigress one more chance to end this so-called “miracle” season on an unforgettable note.