Aryna Sabalenka won her first Grand Slam title by coming back to beat Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the Australian Open women’s final Saturday. The 24-year-old Sabalenka, who’s from Belarus, was appearing in her first major final, per the AP. She improved to 11-0 in 2023, and the only set she has dropped all season was the opener on Saturday against Wimbledon champion Rybakina. But Sabalenka turned things around with an aggressive style that resulted in 51 winners, 20 more than her opponent. She used 17 aces to overcome seven double-faults. And she managed to break the big-serving Rybakina three times, the last coming for a 4-3 lead in the third set that she never relinquished.
Still, Sabalenka needed to work for the championship while serving in what would be the last game, double-faulting on her initial match point and requiring three more to close things out. When Rybakina sent a forehand long to cap the final after nearly 2 1/2 hours, Sabalenka dropped to her back on the court and stayed down for a bit, covering her face as her eyes welled with tears. Sabalenka is a powerful player whose most glowing strength was also her most glaring shortfall: her serve. Long capable of hammering aces, she also had a well-known problem with double-faulting, leading the tour in that category last year with nearly 400, including more than 20 apiece in some matches.
After much prodding from her team, she finally agreed to undergo an overhaul of her serving mechanics last August. That, along with a commitment to trying to stay calm in the most high-pressure moments, is really paying off now. Sabalenka was 0-3 in Grand Slam semifinals until eliminating Magda Linette in Melbourne. Now, Sabalenka has done one better and will rise to No. 2 in the rankings. Sabalenka acknowledged ahead of time that she expected to be nervous. Which makes perfect sense: This was the most important match of her career to date. And if those jitters were evident ever-so-briefly early—she double-faulted on the evening’s very first point—and appeared to be resurfacing as the end neared, Sabalenka controlled them well enough to finish the job.
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