24-year-old Belarusian player, Aryna Sabalenka defeated Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan in a riveting two-and-a-half-hour match that spanned three sets, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, to win her first grand slam title at the Australian Open.
Sabalenka who is now 11-0 with two titles in 2023 and will rise to No. 2 in the WTA rankings on Monday.
Rybakina, who took home her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon last year, kicked off the match explosively, dropping just six service points in the opening set.
But from the beginning of the second set onwards, the battle between the two players—which was as much a test of Sabalenka’s psychological mettle as it was of both their volcanic power—began to turn, with Sabalenka settling in and breaking serve for a 3-1 lead.
Many commentators described Sabalenka’s trajectory throughout the match as a kind of metaphor for her career as a whole.
Immediately demonstrating her jaw-dropping force—but also some inconsistency in her ability to balance that power with precision—she eventually gained the composure and control needed to overcome Rybakina in a thrilling final set that saw Rybakina, to her credit, never falter.
After three missed championship points by Sabalenka, a final forehand error from Rybakina sealed the deal, with Sabalenka falling to the ground in elation.
“I’m super happy that I was able to handle all those emotions,” she said, “and win this one.”
The only set she has dropped all season was the opener on Saturday against Rybakina, who eliminated No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the fourth round.
It was telling that Sabalenka’s remarks during the post-match ceremony were directed at her coach, Anton Dubrov, and her fitness trainer, Jason Stacy — she referred to them as “the craziest team on tour.”
“We’ve been through a lot of, I would say, downs last year,” said Sabalenka, who was appearing in her first major final and had been 0-3 in Slam semifinals until this week. “We worked so hard and you guys deserve this trophy. It’s more about you than it’s about me.”
Well, she had a lot to do with it, of course. Those serves that produced 17 aces, helping erase the sting of seven double-faults.
Those hammered groundstrokes and relentlessly aggressive style that produced 51 winners, 20 more than Rybakina’s total. And, despite her go-for-broke shotmaking, somehow Sabalenka limited her unforced error count to 28.
One more key statistic: Sabalenka managed to accrue 13 break points, converting three, including the one at 4-3 in the last set that put her ahead for good.
“She played really well today,” said Rybakina, who has lost all four matches she’s played against Sabalenka, all in three sets. “She was strong mentally, physically.”
While the latter has long been a hallmark of her game, even Sabalenka acknowledges that the first has been an issue.
Her most glowing strength was also her most glaring shortfall: her serve. Capable of delivering aces, she also had a well-known problem with double-faulting, leading the tour in that category last year with nearly 400, including matches with more than 20.
After much prodding from her group, she agreed to undergo an overhaul of her mechanics last August. That, along with a commitment to trying to keep her emotions in check — she used to work with a sports psychologist but no longer, saying she relies on herself now — is really paying off.
“She didn’t have great serve last year, but now she was super strong and she served well,” said Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan. “For sure, I respect that. I know how much work it takes.”