MELBOURNE (AP) – Aryna Sabalenka won her first Grand Slam title by coming back to beat Elena Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the Australian Open women’s final yesterday.
The 24-year-old Sabalenka, who is from Belarus, was appearing in her first major final.
She improved to 11-0 in 2023, and the only set she has dropped all season was the opener yesterday against Wimbledon champion Rybakina.
But Sabalenka turned things around with an aggressive style that resulted in 51 winners, 20 more than her opponent. She used 17 aces to overcome seven double-faults. And she managed to break the big-serving Rybakina three times, the last coming for a 4-3 lead in the third set that she never relinquished.
Still, Sabalenka needed to work for the championship while serving in what would be the last game, double-faulting on her initial match point and requiring three more to close things out.
When Rybakina sent a forehand long to cap the final after nearly two and a half hours, Sabalenka dropped to her back on the court and stayed down for a bit, covering her face as her eyes welled with tears.
Sabalenka is a powerful player whose most glowing strength was also her most glaring shortfall: her serve. Long capable of hammering aces, she also had a well-known problem with double-faulting, leading the tour in that category last year with nearly 400, including more than 20 apiece in some matches.
After much prodding from her team, she finally agreed to undergo an overhaul of her serving mechanics last August. That, along with a commitment to trying to stay calm in the most high-pressure moments, is really paying off now.
Sabalenka was 0-3 in Grand Slam semifinals until eliminating Magda Linette in Melbourne.
Now Sabalenka has done one better and will rise to number two in the rankings.
Rybakina and Sabalenka traded booming serves. Rybakina’s fastest arrived at 195 kilometres per hour (kph), Sabalenka’s at 192kph.
They traded zooming groundstrokes from the baseline, often untouchable, resulting in winner after winner.