1674908251 Aryna Sabalenka defeats Elena Rybakina to win thrilling Australian Open

Aryna Sabalenka defeats Elena Rybakina to win thrilling Australian Open women’s final


Belarus-born Aryna Sabalenka defeated Elena Rybakina in three sets to win a thrilling women’s Australian Open last Saturday. In doing so, she became the first player to compete under a neutral flag and secure a Grand Slam.

Amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, tournament organizer Tennis Australia required Russian and Belarusian players to play as neutral players.

Sabalenka was outplayed in the opening set, defeating the reigning Wimbledon champion 4-6 6-3 6-4 in a remarkable turnaround in Melbourne.

Breaking Rybakina’s serve in the seventh game of a tense third set proved to be a crucial breakthrough for the fifth seed, whose poisonous serve and intense groundstrokes ultimately paved the way for their success.

A nervous start from Sabalenka – she made five double faults and won just four points on second serve in the first set – made it look like it would be a routine second Grand Slam for Rybakina as she secured the opener in 34 minutes.

But Sabalenka found both accuracy and power in the second and third sets, with Rybakina faltering at crucial stages. The Russian-born Kazakh, who is also a big hitter, clinched three championship points but sent a long forehand on the fourth. Sabalenka fell to the ground and was moved to tears as she won her first major.

She celebrated by climbing to the players’ box, where her coach Anton Dubrov could be seen sobbing into a towel.

“I’m still shaking and super nervous,” she told viewers in her on-court speech before the presentation.

Presenting Billie Jean King’s trophy, Sabalenka thanked the American great for her pioneering work in women’s football and also thanked her team, which she described as “the craziest on tour”.

“We went through a lot of lows last year,” she said. “We’ve worked so hard, you guys deserve this trophy, it’s more about you than me. Thank you for everything you do for me. I love you.”

Sabalenka secured her victory in three sets.

Minsk-born Sabalenka was in her first Grand Slam final after previously losing three major semifinals. After serving first, she opened the game with a double fault as nerves clearly played a part on an opportunity like this. She later admitted she didn’t “do my best” tactically in the first set.

In the second set she aimed for the Rybakina forehand and broke early to take a 3-1 lead. When Rybakina threatened an immediate break as in the first set, Sabalenka stood firm, overcoming another double fault and extending her lead to 4-1 before securing the set with an ace.

After an impressive second set by Sabalenka, the match went into an exciting third set. Initially the two fought each other, both having the courage to take their shots to maintain power, but it was Sabalenka who finally prevailed.

“I need a few more days to realize what happened,” Sabalenka told Eurosport.

“I’m just super happy and proud. There are so many things on my mind. I’m not on this planet right now. It’s kind of a relief, I was in the top 10 but I haven’t had a grand slam trophy yet and it was really difficult to get it, every slam was super emotional.

“It’s a relief, it’s a joy, I’m just proud of myself, of everyone.”

When asked how she would celebrate, Sabalenka said, laughing, “Probably eating everything I couldn’t eat this week.”