Australia’s MELBOURNE (AP) — There were large servings. So large. Also, other shots. The points were swiftly finished. So fast: Seven of the opening 13 cards were aces.
Thus, it was immediately clear that the winner of the Australian Open women’s final between Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina would be the one who could control her serve, read returns, and maintain composure under pressure.
That turned out to be 24-year-old Belarusian Sabalenka, who on Saturday night at Melbourne Park won her maiden Grand Slam championship after rallying to defeat Wimbledon champion Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Sabalenka used 17 aces among her 51 total wins to overcome seven double-faults.
The fact that Sabalenka referred to her coach Anton Dubrov and her fitness trainer Jason Stacy as “the craziest team on tour, I would say” during the post-match ceremony was telling.
Sabalenka, who was playing in her first major final, remarked, “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs last year. “You guys deserve this award since we fought so hard for it. It’s less about me and more about you.
She is a strong player who is currently 11-0 in 2023 with two titles under her belt. Unfortunately, her serve was both her greatest asset and biggest weakness. Long noted for her ability to smash aces, she also had a well-known issue with double-faults, topping the circuit with nearly 400 of them last year, including more than 20 per match.
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She ultimately decided to undergo an upgrade to her serving mechanics in August after considerable nagging from her squad. This is now really paying off, combined with a commitment to attempting to remain composed under pressure.
She has lost just one set all year, which came against Rybakina on Saturday. Rybakina defeated No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the fourth round.
By playing aggressively and, more crucially, by breaking Rybakina three times, the last of which came for a 4-3 lead in the third set that was never surrendered, Sabalenka managed to turn the situation around.
Even so, Sabalenka had to struggle for the victory while serving in what would be the last game; she double-failed on her first match point and needed three more to win.
After nearly 2 1/2 hours, Rybakina fired a forehand long to end the match, and Sabalenka sank to her back on the court, hiding her face as her eyes welled with tears.
Before defeating Magda Linette in Melbourne, Sabalenka was 0-3 in Grand Slam semifinals. Sabalenka has improved and will move up to No. 2 in the standings as a result.
Rybakina and Sabalenka swapped thundering serves at Rod Laver Arena while seagulls squawked noisily overhead. Sabalenka’s quickest time was 119 mph, while Rybakina’s was 121 mph (195 kph) (192 kph). They traded unstoppable, soaring groundstrokes from the baseline that produced winner after winner.
Afterward, Rybakina hoped that there would be lots more battles.
The most important figure, in the end, was Sabalenka’s 13 break points, compared to Rybakina’s 7. Three conversions from Sabalenka were sufficient, and the persistent pressure she maintained throughout Rybakina’s service games had to wear on her.
Over the course of these two weeks, Sabalenka had only had her serve broken six times in 55 service games, or once every match. In only two receiving games and less than 10 minutes of play, Rybakina gained control of the situation and seized a 2-1 lead, boosted by returning a serve that traveled at 117 mph (189 kph).
In reply, Sabalenka put her racket on one of Rybakina’s serves at that same speed a few games later. Then, after grabbing her first break and tying the score at 4-all with a down-the-line backhand passing winner, Sabalenka lifted an angry fist in the direction of Dubrov and Stacy who were watching from the stands.
However, Sabalenka immediately reversed that in the following game, double-faulting twice, including on break point, to give Rybakina a 5-4 lead. This time, Sabalenka turned back toward her group while sighing, rolling her eyes, and extending her arms as if to say, “Can you believe it? ”
Rybakina subsequently grasped at love to own that set.
The second set’s momentum was immediately altered by Sabalenka. She attacked aggressively, broke to increase her lead to 3-1, held for 4-1, and eventually served it out with an ace – on her second serve, no less.
Sabalenka confessed in advance that she anticipated feeling anxious. Which makes sense because this was her most significant match to yet.
Sabalenka managed her nerves well enough to complete the task, even though they were only momentarily noticeable in the beginning when she double-failed on the evening’s first point.