Australian Open champions confirmed for Dubai Tennis Championships
MELBOURNE, Australia: A point away from her first Grand Slam title, Aryna Sabalenka has committed a foul. And then she made a mistake again. She grimaced. She screamed and turned her back on the court. She shrugged her shoulders and exhaled.
Clearly, this endeavor of winning the Australian Open was not meant to go without a bit of a struggle on Saturday night. Sabalenka knew deep down that it would. She also knew that all the effort she had put into overcoming the self-doubt and those dreaded double faults had to pay off eventually. I had to do it.
And so, as she lost a second match point by missing a forehand, and a third by missing another again, Sabalenka did her best to stay calm, which she used to find quite difficult. She hung on until a fourth chance to shut down Elena Rybakina presented itself – and this time Sabalenka saw a forehand from her equally powerful foe sail long. That was it. The championship belonged to Sabalenka via a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 comeback win over Wimbledon winner Rybakina.
“The last game, yeah, sure, I was a little nervous. I (kept) thinking to myself, like, ‘Nobody’s telling you it’s going to be easy.’ You just have to work for it, work for it, to the last point,” said Sabalenka, a 24-year-old Belarusian who is now 11-0 with two titles in 2023 and will become No. 2 in the Ranking. WTA Monday.
“I’m super happy that I was able to handle all those emotions,” she said, “and to win this one.”
The only set she lost all season was Saturday’s opener against Rybakina, who knocked out No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the fourth round.
It was telling that Sabalenka’s remarks in the post-match ceremony were directed at her coach, Anton Dubrov, and her physical trainer, Jason Stacy – she called them ‘the craziest team in the game’. tour”.
“We went through a lot of, I would say, lows last year,” said Sabalenka, who was in her first major final and had been 0-3 in the Grand Slam semi-finals until this week. “We have worked so hard and you deserve this trophy. It’s more about you than 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 relentless aggressive style that produced 51 winners, 20 more than Rybakina’s total. And, despite shooting perfectly, Sabalenka somehow limited his unforced error count to 28. Another key stat: Sabalenka managed to rack up 13 break points, converting three, including the one at 4-3 in the last set that put her ahead for good.
“She played very well today,” said Rybakina, who lost all four matches she played against Sabalenka, all in straight sets. “She was strong mentally, physically.”
While the latter has long been a hallmark of his game, even Sabalenka acknowledges that the former has been a problem.
His greatest strength was also his most glaring flaw: his service. Able to deliver aces, she also had a notorious double fault problem, leading the circuit in that category last year with nearly 400, including games with over 20.
After much pressure from her group, she agreed to have her mechanics overhauled last August. That, along with a commitment to trying to keep her emotions in check – she was working with a sports psychologist but no longer, saying she relies on herself now – is really paying off.
“She didn’t have a great serve last year, but now she was super strong and served well,” said Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan. “Of course, I respect that. I know how much work that takes.
As the seagulls screeched loudly as they flew over the Rod Laver Arena, Rybakina and Sabalenka exchanged serious racquet blows for nearly 2½ hours.
Services were big. So big. Rybakina’s fastest arrived at 195 km/h (121 mph), Sabalenka’s at 192 km/h (119 mph).
The points went quickly. So fast: Seven of the top 13 were aces.
Sabalenka had only been broken six times in 55 service games over those two weeks, but Rybakina did so twice in the opening set.
And never again. Sabalenka decided to take the initiative even more, and the payoff from her high-risk, high-reward attitude was too much for Rybakina to resist in the final two sets.
Sabalenka said in advance that she expected to feel nervous. Which makes perfect sense to everyone: it was the most important game of his career.
In the end, when it mattered more than ever, Sabalenka was able to stabilize. After the last point, she dropped onto her back on the court and lay back for a bit, covering her face as her eyes filled with tears.
Quite a departure from a year ago at Melbourne Park when Sabalenka left after 15 double faults in a fourth-round defeat.
“I really feel right now that I really needed those tough losses to understand myself a bit better. It was like preparation for me,” Sabalenka said in his post-match press conference, his new trophy nearby and a glass of champagne in hand “Actually, I’m happy to have lost these matches, so now I can be a different player and just a different Aryna, you know?”