Jan 28, 2023 at 12:14 Update: 4 minutes ago
Aryna Sabalenka won the Australian Open on Saturday at the expense of Elena Rybakina. The Belarusian fought back from a set deficit in an exciting final and secured her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne: 4-6, 6-3 and 6-4.
The 24-year-old Sabalenka decided the high-quality final in the Rod Laver Arena in 2.5 hours. The number five in the world missed three match points on her own service in the last game and conceded a break point, but she scored on her fourth chance.
Sabalenka is only the second tennis player from Belarus to win a Grand Slam singles title. She follows in the footsteps of Victoria Azarenka, who won the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013. Azarenka was eliminated in the semifinals this time.
It was Sabalenka’s first Grand Slam final. She did make it to the semi-finals at Wimbledon once (2021) and she made it to the last four at the US Open twice (2021 and 2022). Sabalenka also won the WTA tournament in Adelaide this month and is therefore still undefeated this year.
With Rybakina, Sabalenka met a single Grand Slam winner in the final of the Australian Open. The 23-year-old Kazakh, the number 25 in the world, won Wimbledon out of nowhere last year. This was only the second time Rybakina had progressed past the quarterfinals at a major.
The final for the men will take place on Sunday between Novak Djokovic and Stéfanos Tsitsipás and will start around 9.40 am. Djokovic can win the Australian Open for the tenth time. If the 35-year-old Serbian succeeds, he will equal Rafael Nadal’s Grand Slam record (22 titles).
Aryna Sabalenka cashed in her fourth match point and fell emotionally on the Australian hard court. Photo: Getty Images
Sabalenka shows resilience after disappointing first set
Sabalenka started the final knowing she had won her three previous matches against Rybakina, but in Melbourne the Belarusian had a false start. She lost a 40-0 lead on her own service at 1-1 and was broken. In the rallies it was often even between the two finalists, who impressed with flat hard blows.
Although Sabalenka fought back by winning the service game against Rybakina 3-4, it became clear that the global number five had a lot more trouble with her serves. Especially her second serve was a problem child. Due to a double fault on break point – already her fifth of the game – Sabalenka again lost her service game. Rybakina then finished it off and gave Sabalenka her first set loss this tournament.
In the first game of the second set, Rybakina seemed to push through. The apparently calm Kazakh girl forced Sabalenka to make mistakes and immediately got two break points, but they were beautifully knocked away. Then the roles were reversed.
Sabalenka came into the match better – she hit 21 winners in the second set – and placed the first break of the second set at 2-1. Rybakina was lucky that she was not broken more often, but the Wimbledon winner could not prevent a third set.
Also in the decisive set, Sabalenka continued to ravage her opponent with hard and clean blows. It already gave her a break point at 2-2 and at 3-3 she got three more, one of which she used. Rybakina made little objection. Things got tense when Sabalenka missed three match points at 5-4 and conceded a break point. Due to a mistake by Rybakina, the Belarusian was able to drop emotionally on the Australian hard court moments later.
Route Sabalenka to title
First round: Tereza Martincová (6-1 and 6-4)
Second round: Shelby Rogers (6-3 en 6-1)
Third round: Elise Mertens (6-2 and 6-3)
Round of 16: Belinda Bencic (7-5 in 6-2)
Quarterfinals: Donna Vekic (6-3 at 6-2)
Semi-finals: Magda Linette (7-6 (1) and 6-2)
Finale: Elena Rybakina (4-6, 6-3 en 6-4)
Beeld: Getty Images
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TennisAustralian OpenAryna SabalenkaElena Rybakina
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