Tennis star Aryna Sabalenka has left fans baffled after having to resort to an underarm serve during her match against Rebecca Peterson.
The world number two was competing against Peterson at the second WTA 250 event of the Adelaide International.
She had competed at the first event last week, losing 7-6, 6-1 in her first match against
Kaja Juvan. Sabalenka hit 18 doubles faults during the encounter.
Her misery continued today with a 5-7, 6-1, 7-5 defeat to Peterson. She hit 21 doubles faults and was forced to resort to serving underarm on several occasions in the second and third sets.
It was Peterson’s first ever victory against a top 10 player. The Swede is currently ranked number 93 in the world.
Chair umpire Julie Kjendlie was prompted to intervene during the match, asking Sabalenka if she was OK.
“This is my technical problem, I cannot serve better,” she replied, visibly upset.
Australian tennis legend Jelena Dokic commented on the incident while covering the match for Nine.
“It’s tough, I feel for her,” she said. “It’s about finding those answers out there, but even off the court, what do you do next?
“It clearly set Sabalenka off, saying ‘there’s nothing I can do, it’s my technical problem, I’m trying.’
“It’s a tough one, because you’re genuinely concerned. Julie Kjendlie, she’s an incredible chair umpire, I’ve known her for a long time, incredibly experienced and I think she was concerned. Obviously the timing of it for Sabalenka wasn’t great.
“This is hard to watch. The fact that she’s in tears out on court. I’m genuinely concerned for Sabalenka.”
Social media users compared Sabalenka to Italian tennis player Sara Errani, who struggled through a brutal service game while playing Kiki Bertens at the French Open in 2020.
The 34-year–old received two time violations and only landed one overarm serve during the game, resorting to two underarm deliveries. Bertens eventually won 7-6, 3-6, 9-7.
Sabalenka will be aiming to avoid any more comparisons to Errani while competing at the Australian Open next week.
The 23-year-old Belarusian had a breakthrough 2021, but failed to win the biggest title of all – a Grand Slam.
Sabalenka did reach the semi-finals of Wimbledon and the US Open, but lost to Karolína Plíšková and Leylah Fernandez respectively.
This year she will be raring to go two steps further – reach a Grand Slam final, and win the title. She will have to dramatically improve her service game if she is to do so, however.