Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus captured her maiden Grand Slam title, defeating Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan 4-6 6-3 6-4 in perhaps the best Australian Open women’s final in the last decade.
Sabalenka, playing in her first ever Grand Slam title at age 24, cemented herself as the most in-form player in women’s tennis today, winning a grueling contest that went nearly 2.5 hours, and featured multiple momentum changes throughout, with both players making a worthy case to be the champion. In the end, it was Sabalenka’s 51 winners and show of aggression in rallies that won the day.
Rybakina Channels Her Form To Take the Opening Set
The opening set would see three breaks of serve, with the final break benefiting last year’s Wimbledon Champion Rybakina. Rybakina was 4-2 up, was broken back for 4-4 in the opening set, but then broke Sabalenka again and held at love to take the first set 6-4. The 23-year-old was playing in just her second ever Grand Slam final but showing plenty of mettle at the beginning of the contest.
Sabalenka mounts her comeback from a set down
After dropping her first set of the year, Sabalenka would dig deep in set 2 and respond positively to the adversity. She saved double break point in her opening service game of set 2, and later broke Rybakina to stretch the lead in set 2 to 4-1, saving a break back point chance for Rybakina along the way. This portion of the match was the key turning point for Sabalenka.
Rybakina would face additional pressure on her serve, and need to save three break points in a long game that she held for 2-4, and then faced two set points/break points in the ensuing service game she would hold for 3-5. With Sabalenka the stronger player on serve in set 2, she went on to force a third set 6-3, with the second set only featuring one game where either player took 1 point or fewer in the game.
In this final, every point was earned by these world class players, and there was rarely an easy service game played.
Sabalenka Secures the Deciding Set
Sabalenka’s aggression and Rybakina’s relatively error-free game would go toe- to-toe in the third and deciding set. The next opportunity in the match would come for Sabalenka at 2-2, with Rybakina saving a break point in a long service game to hold for 3-2. In her next service game, Rybakina wouldn’t be so lucky, Sabalenka gained the upper hand on her third break point of the game to take it 4-3 and put herself in a decisively advantageous position in the clash.
Rybakina would battle hard in both of Sabalenka’s ensuing service games, with Sabalenka serving for the match, she would need four match points to take it, saving a break point along the way for a 4-6 6-3 6-4 victory that featured players who were arguably evenly matched. Sabalenka was just slightly more clutch and had a sharper edge to her game, with her tremendous power proving too much for Rybakina.
The moment Aryna Sabalenka became a Grand Slam champion for the first time.
It was a phenomenal battle with Elena Rybakina. pic.twitter.com/HXcWEAnNlK
— Gaspar Ribeiro Lança (@gasparlanca) January 28, 2023
Expect Rybakina and Sabalenka to Feature in More Grand Slam Finals
In a tournament where neither player faced a difficult challenge in multiple rounds, they gave each other an epic competition in the final that should live long in the memory of tennis fans worldwide.
With her first Grand Slam final, Sabalenka, who remains undefeated on the season, with 11 consecutive wins, is up to #2 in the world and has a path to world #1 by the summer if she continues to play lights out tennis, especially after showing major improvements with her serve. A relatively long-time fixture at the top of women’s tennis, Sabalenka has also made history as the second ever Grand Slam winner from Belarus, following in the footsteps of Victoria Azarenka, who reached the semifinals of the Australian Open this year. Rybakina, likewise, isn’t going away, she has entered the top 10 in the rankings, despite getting no ranking points for her Wimbledon victory over Ons Jabeur, less than a year ago. Rybakina also scored more winners than unforced errors in the match. With how well they both played in Melbourne, I expect Sabalenka and Rybakina to feature more Grand Slam finals to come, and both players should achieve more Grand Slam glory.