Melbourne, January 28
Aryna Sabalenka bludgeoned her way to a maiden Grand Slam title at the Australian Open with a 4-6 6-3 6-4 win over Kazakh 22nd seed Elena Rybakina on Saturday in a thrilling final between two of the most exciting power-hitters in the women's game.
An 11th straight win of the year also means the Belarusian will return to a career-high ranking of number two behind Iga Swiatek, reaping the rewards of her improved mental stability and service to emerge as a genuine threat in big tournaments.
Rybakina went up 3-1 with a comfortable hold after fifth-seed Sabalenka dropped her huge serve with a double fault and sent a forehand long, but the Kazakh came under pressure and allowed her opponent to level the opening set at 4-4.
Rybakina hit back immediately, however, turning up the heat in gusty conditions at Rod Laver Arena to grab another break as Sabalenka double-faulted for a fifth time, and going on to seal the set with a big serve that the Belarusian returned into the net.
It was the first time that Adelaide champion Sabalenka had dropped a set in 11 matches this year and the nerves began to show just a bit, before the 24-year-old composed herself and saved two breakpoints in the opening game of the next set.
Sabalenka then found a bit of consistency to break but had to overcome a wobble to grab a 4-1 lead after which she let out a huge roar and levelled the match with her 11th and 12th aces to take the match at Melbourne Park to a third set.
Sabalenka served with venom and hammered deep returns in the decider to punch holes through Rybakina's defence for a 5-3 lead. She then double-faulted on one matchpoint and squandered two more before finally prevailing to claim the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.
She walked to Rybakina's side of the court and gave her a hug before climbing up to embrace her team in her players box. Reuters
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