Aryna Sabalenka won her maiden Grand Slam title as she battled back to beat Elena Rybakina in a thrilling Australian Open final on Saturday.
Belarusian Sabalenka seized the initiative after dropping the opening set to win 4-6 6-3 6-4 and thus becomes the first singles player to win a major under a neutral flag.
After receiving the trophy from Billie Jean King, Sabalenka said: “Thank you for an amazing atmosphere. And of course my team, the craziest team on tour I would say. We’ve been through a lot of downs last year, we worked so hard. You guys deserve this trophy, it’s more about you than me. I love you guys.
“I hope next year I come back stronger and I’ll show you even better tennis.”
Rybakina vs Sabalenka: Tale of the Tape
|71%||1st serve win percentage||71%|
|44%||2nd serve win percentage||47%|
|2/7||Break points won||3/13|
|9/12||Net points won||7/8|
|103||Total points won||110|
Rybakina made the better start, breaking Sabalenka from 40-0 in the third game and holding easily herself until the eighth game, when the Belarusian put together a series of good returns and got her reward.
Sabalenka, who had previously won all 20 sets she had contested this season, then played a very poor service game, double-faulting twice to leave Rybakina serving for the set, and she held to love to take it 6-4 and end Sabalenka’s streak.
The Russian-born Kazakh pushed hard for a break at the start of the second set but Sabalenka held firm, saving two break points in the opening game.
Sabalenka making history in Melbourne
Sabalenka is the 29th different women’s player in the Open Era to secure the title at the Australian Open and the 58th different women’s player in the Open Era to secure a Grand Slam title.
Gradually the Belarusian began to turn the match in her favour, outhitting Rybakina in terms of winners by more than two to one and breaking to lead 3-1.
The Wimbledon champion battled hard to keep it to one break, saving three break points in the sixth game and then two set points at 5-2.
But Sabalenka kept her nerve to serve it out, winning the set 6-3 with a second serve ace to send it to a decider.
The momentum now was with Sabalenka, and she elevated her level again in the early stages of the decider, pushing ever closer to the lines but rarely beyond them in what was surely the best performance of her life.
Rybakina withstood a break point in a long game at 2-2 but her resistance cracked two games later as Sabalenka moved to within sight of victory.
The final moment did not come easily, with Sabalenka double-faulting on her first match point and then missing a forehand on her second as a baby cried in the stands.
But she pulled out her fastest serve of the match to save a break point and finally clinched victory on her fourth chance after two hours and 28 minutes.
Rybakina, who was watched by her parents and sister, said after collecting her runners-up trophy: “First I would like to congratulate Aryna. I know how hard you’ve worked for that and also your team. Hopefully we’re going to have many more battles.
“Of course I want to say a big thank you to my team for the great job we’ve done in pre-season and over the last four years.
“The atmosphere was amazing, I had goose bumps. Thank you everyone for the support and I look forward to coming back next year.”