Aryna Sabalenka beat Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan in a dramatic final between two of the most exciting power-hitters in women’s tennis, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, on Saturday to earn her first Grand Slam championship.
With an 11th consecutive victory this year, the Belarusian will return to her career-high ranking of number two behind Iga Swiatek, demonstrating how her enhanced mental fortitude and service have made her a formidable opponent at the highest levels of the sport.
After Sabalenka, the fifth seed, missed her massive serve with a double fault and blasted a forehand long, Rybakina went up 3-1 with an easy hold, but the Kazakh crumbled under pressure and let her opponent even the first set at 4-4.
But Rybakina quickly responded, cranking up the heat in the windy conditions at Rod Laver Arena to break again after Sabalenka double-faulted for the fifth time, and then closing out the set with a powerful serve that the Belarusian returned into the net.
It was the first time in 11 matches this year that Adelaide winner Sabalenka had lost a set, and her jitters showed a little bit before the 24-year-old calmed down and saved two breakpoints in the first game of the second set.
Sabalenka then found some consistency to break, overcoming a wobble to hold a 4-1 lead before letting out a tremendous roar and tying the match with her 11th and 12th aces to force a third set at Melbourne Park.
In the decisive set, Sabalenka served with venom and blasted deep returns to break Rybakina’s defence and take a 5-3 lead. When she had a chance to win the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, she double-faulted on the first match point and then lost two more before ultimately succeeding.