World No.3 Aryna Sabalenka has credited former Australian tennis player Mark Philippoussis for helping fix her misfiring serve in the build-up to the Australian Open.
Sabalenka's preparations for the year's first Grand Slam were far from ideal, with the Belarusian being defeated in her first match in two tune-up events in Adelaide in recent weeks.
Both of Sabalenka's performances were riddled with service errors and she committed a total of 39 double faults over the course of the two losses.
The second seed finally turned that trend around on Tuesday, reducing her double fault count to 12 in a battling 5-7 6-3 6-2 win over another Australia, Storm Sanders, which she said was the result of her conversations with Philippoussis.
"After the first matches of the season I was really worried and I spoke with Philippoussis," Sabalenka said. "He was in Adelaide and after my second match he just wrote me saying 'just stop thinking a lot on your serve'.
"He said 'if you have some time we can go out on the court, I can help you'.
"I think at 9pm we went on court and we served a lot and he gave me some tips about what should I focus on during the game. My coach was there. We had a nice conversation. I'm really thankful to him because that's what helped me today."
Sabalenka started her tie against Sanders with six double faults in the opening set, and for a while, it seemed like the match would play out in similar fashion to her previous two defeats.
However, the Belarusian was able to regain her cool and find her range in the second set to go on and win the contest, which she said was a result of trusting herself and relying on instinct.
"I just, I think it's all about in here (points to head). I was thinking a lot on my serve," Sabalenka said.
"I tried to control everything and this is not how it works. I have muscle memory and I just have to trust myself and, yeah, that's what I did in the middle of the second set."
Sabalenka, who reached the fourth round of the Australian Open in 2021, will face China's Wang Xinyu next.
Australian Associated Press
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