Aryna Sabalenka beats Elena Rybakina for the women’s title

Aryna Sabalenka won her first Grand Slam title after coming back to defeat Elena Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the women’s Australian Open final on Saturday.

The 24-year-old Sabalenka, who is from Belarus, was appearing in her first major final.

She improved to 11-0 in 2023, and the only set she dropped all season was Saturday’s opener against Wimbledon champion Rybakina.

But Sabalenka turned things around with an aggressive style that yielded 51 winners, 20 more than her opponent. She used 17 aces to overcome seven double faults. She managed to break Rybakina’s serve three times, the latter coming to a 4-3 lead in the third set that she never relinquished.

Needing to work towards the championship, Sabalenka double-faulted on her initial match point and required three more to close things down.

Sabalenka hits a tennis ball.
Sabalenka admitted early on that she expected to be nervous about the match against Rybakina.
AFP via Getty Images

When Rybakina served a long forehand to cap off the final after nearly two and a half hours, Sabalenka fell to her back on the court and stayed slightly lower, covering her face and eyes welling with tears.

Sabalenka is a powerful player whose most shining strength is also her most shining flaw: her serve. Long capable of hitting aces, she also had a known problem with double faults, leading the tour in that category last year with nearly 400, including more than 20 each in some matches.

After much prodding from her team, she finally agreed to undergo a service mechanic repair last August. This, along with a commitment to trying to stay calm in the most stressful of moments, is now paying off.

Sabalenka was 0-3 in her Grand Slam semi-final until her elimination by Magda Lynette in Melbourne. Now Sabalenka is doing better and is going to climb to #2 in the world rankings.

As seagulls shrieked loudly as they flew over Rod Laver Arena, Rybakina and Sabalenka exchanged booming performances. Rybakina reached 121 mph (195 km/h), Sabalenka at 119 mph (192 km/h). They traded ground hits from the baseline, often untouchables, resulting in winner after winner.

The main statistic, in the end, was this: Sabalenka has accumulated 13 stops, Rybakina seven. And although Sabalenka shifted only three of them, it was enough, and the constant pressure that she managed to apply during Rybakina’s service games took its toll.

Sabalenka stands with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy and Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan stands with the trophy after the women's singles final match during Day 13 of the 2023 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 28, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia.
Sabalenka stands with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy and Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan with the trophy after the women’s singles final match during Day 13 of the 2023 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 28, 2023, in Melbourne, Australia.
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Sabalenka was broken just six times in 55 service matches over those two weeks, an average of once per match. It took Rybakina less than 10 minutes of action and all two receivers to get the scale of things up and a 2-1 lead, helped to recover one serve that reached 117 mph (189 km/h).

After a few games, Sabalenka returned the favor, also putting her racket on one of Rybakina’s performances just as quickly. Then, when Sabalenka smashed a backhand winner down the line to grab her first break and pull even at a 4-all, she looked up at her coach and fitness instructor in the stands, raised her fist and screamed.

In the next game, however, Sabalenka gave right back twice—including a break point—to give Rybakina a 5–4 advantage. This time, Sabalenka turned again toward her retinue, but with a sigh, a wink and an outstretched arms, as if to say, “Can you believe it?”

It was Sabalenka’s first Grand Slam title in a thrilling comeback win over Elena Rybakina.
AFP via Getty Images

Soon after, Rybakina stuck to owning that group.

Sabalenka changed momentum from the start in the second set. She attacked hard, broke to lead 3-1, held 4-1, and finally served it decently, with a header—on second serve, no less.

Sabalenka admitted early on that she expected to be nervous. Which makes perfect sense: This was the most important match of her career so far.

And if those tensions were evident very early on – she double-faulted on the first point of the evening – and seemed to resurface towards the end, Sabalenka controlled them well enough to finish the job.

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