Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka is the Australian Open champion, winning her first major title after defeating Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 at Rod Lavera Arena on Saturday night.
In a two-and-a-half-hour epic, Sabalenka emerged victorious on the back of a staggering 51 winners.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Sabalenka wins the 2023 Australian Open.
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Sabalenka entered the match as the world No.5 and hot favourite against the 22nd seed.
Having won Wimbledon in 2022, Rybakina ordinarily would have entered the tournament with a higher ranking but she missed out on the ranking points due to the All-England Tennis Club’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players because of the invasion of Ukraine.
The match began with impressive serves, with five aces between the pair in the first two games alone.
However, Rybakina dominated the first set, with her error prone opponent making five double faults and nine unforced errors to zero and six respectively.
The world No.25 kept her cool win the set, which was the first set Sabalenka has lost all year.
“I’m afraid Sabalenka (is) rather still running too hot, and the icy Rybakina taking full advantage,” former English No.1 Samantha Smith said in commentary.
Sabalenka came out firing in the second, with Casey Dellacqua attributing the change in tempo to her mindset.
“I feel like Sabalenka was overthinking. I think she knows what she needs to do out here, but I feel like at times she was just overthinking,” Dellacqua said.
“She’s just got to trust the process, trust what she’s capable of.
“I think Sabalenka’s starting to calm down, just focus on what’s working well out here.”
Sabalenka moved into a 5-2 lead in the second set and successfully served it out to send the match into a decider.
Each held serve until Sabalenka broke in the seventh game.
After three championship points went by the wayside, Sabalenka sealed the victory when Rybakina hit a forehand long.
“She may have a tiger tattoo but she has the heart of a lioness,” Smith said of the Australian Open champion.
“One of the most dramatic nights on Rod Laver Arena.”
Sabalenka fell to the ground in tears before composing herself to deliver a classy acceptance speech.
“First of all I want to say sorry for my English because I’m still shaking and super nervous,” she said.
“It’s such an inspiration to receive the trophy from you (Billie Jean King), thank you so much for everything you’ve done for our sport.
“I want to congratulate Elena for an incredible two weeks and of course we are going to have many more battles.
“Thank you so much for the atmosphere, it was enjoyable to play in front of you.
“Thank you so much to my team, the craziest team on tour I would say, we’ve been through a lot of downs the last year and worked so hard and you guys deserve this trophy, it’s more about you than about me.
“I hope next year I come back stronger and I’ll show you even better things.”