Indian Wells, California

March 8 - 21, 2021

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Aryna Sabalenka
‘Dreaming About Tigers’

by Jeff Donaldson

In Their Words

As told to Jeff Donaldson

Aryna Sabalenka has always moved to the beat of her own drum. She’s unapologetically intense on the court, wearing her heart on her sleeve as she’s taking the WTA by storm. A first-time champion last year in New Haven, she followed up her success there with a second-week appearance at the US Open and, most notably, the trophy at the Premier 5 event in Wuhan. Her string of results and growing resume against the game’s biggest names has seen her rise precipitously into the world’s Top 10, where she continues to be a force to be reckoned with. presents Aryna Sabalenka in her own words:

A few years ago, I got crazy about tattoos.

I was always dreaming about tattoos and I was dreaming about tigers. It happened for one week, two weeks, three weeks and then one day I woke up and said, “Okay, I’m going to do this. I’m going to get this tiger tattoo.”

Suddenly, I was there, sitting in the chair, thinking, “Ahhh, I’m really doing this?” After it, my first reaction was, “Is this really on my arm? Can you take it off please?” But there is nothing you can do, it is done. And now I’m used to it and really like it. Everyone sees it when they watch me play, but I don’t see it myself. It’s a just a part of me.

Monday, March 11, 2019 – Aryna Sabalenka plays Lesia Tsurenko in the 3rd round of the BNP Paribas Open in Stadium 2 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Jared Wickerham/BNP Paribas Open)

Being Belarusian also is a part of me that will never come off.

It means a lot to be playing for my country. Before our success in tennis, nobody knew Belarus, where it is, what it is. Everybody was like, “Where are you from?”


“Ah, Russia.”

“No, it’s not Russia. It’s a different country!” We are close, but we are different.

Now if someone asks me where I’m from, I say it – I’m from Belarus – and everybody knows it. It’s an unbelievable feeling to know that everyone knows your country. I think the girls from Belarus – [Victoria] Azarenka, [Aliaksandra] Sasnovich – we are all big fighters. This is something inside of us. That’s why I enjoy to be Belarusian, because I feel like I am really strong inside. Like a tiger.

I remember at the US Open last year against [Petra] Kvitova, I felt like this. I lost to her here in Indian Wells last year, that match was a big challenge for me. But in New York, everything was going in and I couldn’t miss. When I finished and won 7-5, 6-1, I was like, “Wow. We keep it. We take it.”

Saturday, March 9, 2019 – Aryna Sabalenka plays Ajla Tomljanovic in the 2nd round of the BNP Paribas Open in Stadium 3 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Michael Cummo/BNP Paribas Open)

It was an unbelievable match – sometimes it happens like this, probably once or twice per year. Other matches, you need to work hard to win it.

Against [Daria] Gavrilova in New Haven, I lost my mind there. I just couldn’t play well. I was so happy when I finished it. I ended up winning but it was a long one – I think I lost like three or four kilograms from being so nervous… but it was good for my body, I guess!

After both these kind of matches, against Kvitova and Gavrilova, you think, “Okay, nothing can stop me.”

On the court, I always believe this. I am focused and don’t really care how I look. I really want to win the match so I will do everything to do that. But off the court, I am just enjoying it; I don’t want to be the same like on the court. I like to smile and relax. (Ok, sometimes I smile on court too, but only in funny situations!)

Monday, March 12, 2018 – Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka play Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina in the 2nd Round of the BNP Paribas Open in Stadium 6 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Matthew Thomas/BNP Paribas Open)

Back when I got my tattoo, I said it would be my first and last. But if I get another one, it would be some sign on my ribcage I think. Something about do your best, be your best. Something inspirational about tennis in life. Usually if you’re tattooing something, it’s something to inspire you.

I might not dream about tiger tattoos anymore, but I still always dream about winning.

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