Tennis has always been a mental sport, and players who can overcome their inner demons have seen immense success in their careers.
DISCLAIMER: This list was made by taking into account those players who are currently still on the WTA Tour and who have shown a track record of astounding results through mental resilience. Players who have retired will not be considered for this list.
5. Elena Rybakina
Barely making the list but deservingly so is 2022 Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina. The Russian-born Kazakhstani had an incredible run to her maiden Grand Slam title as she defeated the likes of Bianca Andreescu, Simona Halep, and Ons Jabeur en route to victory. At just 23 years old, the young star has made huge strides in her career this year, having served over 220 aces in just 38 matches as she edges closer to the WTA Top 20.
Rybakina’s mental strength can be described as “quiet confidence” because of how cool and composed she remains under pressure. Even the most composed players on the WTA Tour as well as the ATP Tour would let out a celebratory roar after winning a crucial point. For Elena Rybakina, silence is power, and not even the moment of winning the Wimbledon finals could force an outburst of emotion from her.
Without a doubt, this new chilled champion has built her mental fortress with the greatest craftsmanship, and now as a Grand Slam champion, it will be interesting to see how far she can go moving forward.
4. Simona Halep
Of course, mental fortitude does not always come in the form of quiet confidence, and the fiery Simona Halep is proof of that. Winning her first Grand Slam in 2018 and her second in 2019, the 30-year-old has had immense success throughout her career. In fact, Halep’s mental strength allowed her to make the epic comeback at the French Open finals of 2018, where she turned the match around after being down a set against Sloane Stephens. Indeed, much of her triumph has been a result of a powerful mental game, allowing her to turn matches around in dire situations, a feat she often pulls off even now.
Simona Halep is no stranger to trialing times, having fallen victim to losing the lead in a match on numerous occasions. After her memorable French Open comeback win, the Romanian recounted one of many instances that she experienced where she had let the match go, recalling “…last year it happened to me, same thing, I was set and a break up and I lost the match.”
As they say, diamonds are made under pressure, and Simona Halep is a living example of this. The former world No.1 never let her failures keep her down, but rather used them as a platform to master the mental side of tennis.
3. Victoria Azarenka
Needing no introduction (but I’ll give you one anyway), Victoria Azarenka has been a strong pillar on the WTA Tour for over a decade, and still shows plenty of edge in her game. The Belarusian has won two Grand Slams but also finished many Slams as the runner-up or as a semifinalist. In an era dominated by the Williams sisters, Azarenka’s feats are truly extraordinary. Going up against the legendary Serena Williams 23 times throughout her career and suffering 18 losses, Azarenka never threw in the towel but instead rose up to the challenge.
Indeed, the former world No.1 had one of the most incredible rivalries against Serena Williams, despite being on the bottom end of their head-to-head. Azarenka certainly drove Williams up the wall on numerous occasions, largely regarded as one of the only players who could challenge the 23-time Grand Slam champion in her prime. Victoria Azarenka’s keep-moving-forward attitude, her mindset of building strength through every bit of life experience and always learning are the keys to her extraordinary mental game that has given her plenty of success in her career.
2. Serena Williams
Let’s be real, you don’t win 23 Grand Slams without having astounding mental fortitude. Of course, Serena Williams has had the skills and physical prowess to truly overpower her opponents, but oftentimes it’s at the top where your mentality is most vulnerable. Many players are quick to take the pedal off their momentum when they’ve secured a Grand Slam or two, but for Serena Williams, the goal was much bigger than that. From growing up in the harsh conditions of Compton to overcoming the shadow of her older sister Venus Williams, Serena’s journey to GOAT status required a degree of focus, discipline, and motivation like no other.
A non-negotiable goal to reach the top and a burning dream to be the Greatest Of All Time was all that Williams needed to continue driving herself Slam after Slam, title after title. In 2013, the American star won 34 matches in a row, which was the longest streak of any player at the time since her sister Venus achieved a similar feat in 2000. While much of her match dominance has diminished, Serena Williams’ mental fortitude to keep pushing and seeking success regardless of age has allowed her to prolong her retirement and compete at a high level even at 40 years old.
1. Iga Swiatek
The Williams sisters’ record winning streaks of the new millennium would be halted only by the new world No.1 Iga Swiatek. The 21-year-old began the year by exiting the Australian Open in the fourth round at the hands of Simona Halep. Since then, she made a resounding comeback to win 37 matches in a row and claim six titles to her name during the process. From the Sunshine Double to the French Open, Swiatek not only ceased the top spot on the WTA ladder but was relentless in defending it.
An aspect of Swiatek’s game that is often overlooked because of her physical prowess on the court is her mental game. Just like Serena Williams, Iga Swiatek shows the importance of keeping it together no matter how much of a lead you have. Oftentimes, it can be more difficult to end a match to seal your win than it is to make a comeback, and this is because of the natural course of emotions that take place. Swiatek has shown to be on both ends of the coin, applying her mental strength to make astonishing comebacks as well as using resilience and inner-fight to whether the storms of her opponents’ “second winds.”
Iga Swiatek has attributed much of her success to taking care of her mental health. Parts of her training included breathwork, visualization, and meditation, all of which puts her in a positive mindset on and off the court. Indeed, Swiatek is a huge believer that tennis and life are interrelated, and how you conduct yourself off the court will ultimately seep into your match results. Perhaps a lesson in mental health that we can all take with us, Iga Swiatek has truly become an inspiration for those looking to improve themselves in all facets of life, showing us that everything is interrelated and should be treated with an equal amount of care and vigilance.