Belarusian fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka won her first Grand Slam singles title by fighting back to beat Elena Rybakina in the Australian Open final.
In an absorbing contest which showcased the power of both players, 24-year-old Sabalenka triumphed 4-6 6-3 6-4.
Sabalenka, who won under a neutral flag because of Belarus’ support of Russia’s war in Ukraine, hit 51 winners as her high-risk game paid off in Melbourne.
Kazakhstan’s Rybakina was unable to add a second Slam to her Wimbledon title.
Instead, it was Sabalenka who put her name on the exclusive list of people to win a major title as she fulfilled her long-seen potential.
Sabalenka could not convert her first three championship points – producing an edgy double fault, pulling a forehand wide and knocking a backhand long – but also held her nerve in between by saving a break point with a hefty first serve.
At the fourth opportunity, she finally got over the line when Rybakina hit a forehand long.
Sabalenka, full of elation and emotion, instantly fell to the court and covered her face as she cried in celebration.
After returning to her feet and hugging Rybakina, she walked over to her team for a celebration which also left her coach Anton Dubrov sobbing.
Speaking to her team while clutching the trophy, Sabalenka said: “We’ve been through a lot of downs last year. We worked so hard and you guys deserve this trophy. This is more about you than about me.
“Thank you so much for everything you do for me. I love you guys.”
- Sabalenka shows strength of character
A contest between two of the biggest hitters on the WTA Tour – billed as ‘power struggle of epic stature’ by one Melbourne newspaper – was always expected to produce explosive tennis.
And the pair produced exactly that in a high-quality final which did not disappoint.
Strong serving has been the bedrock of Rybakina’s success – leading the ace count in the women’s singles and having won 84% of her service games going into the final – and she dropped just six service points in the opening set.
Fighting back from behind was not something Sabalenka had been forced to worry about since arriving in Australia.
She had started the new season with a 10-match winning streak – leading her to the Adelaide title and then the Melbourne final – with all of those victories coming in straight sets.
But Sabalenka had won all six of the Grand Slam matches last year where she lost the first set and again showed the strength of character – this time in the most pressurised of situations – to fight back on Rod Laver Arena.