Aryna Sabalenka WINS Australian Open to become tennis’ first NEUTRAL champion after fighting back from a set down to beat Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina 4-6 6-3 6-4 in thrilling final at Melbourne Park
- Aryna Sabalenka defeated Elena Rybakina 4-6 6-3 6-4 to win the Australian Open
- The Aussie Open is the world’s first career Grand Slam singles title
- Wimbledon champion Rybakina was looking for her second major title
The tennis world’s policy of allowing players from banned countries to continue to compete produced the first neutral champion at the Australian Open.
Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka may not have a flag by her name, but she now has a first Grand Slam trophy, presented to her by Billie Jean King.
The image may not be to everyone’s taste amid the current global turmoil, but it must be said that, seen through the prism of tennis alone, her triumph was deserved after an outstanding final.
Aryna Sabalenka won the Australian Open by beating Elena Rybakina 4-6 6-3 6-4
She beat Moscow-born Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina 4-6 6-3 6-4 in two and a half hours, and having suffered from nerves in the big event throughout her career, she kept it together to to get it to a fourth match point.
It was the serve that brought her home, somewhat poignantly for a player who has endured attacks from the yips on her second serve. She served 56 of them in making the fourth round at Melbourne Park last year.
In reality, this was not a match-up to capture the wider imagination or give the women’s game a much-needed boost. Yet the quality of tennis lifted it above any indifference one might feel.
Patches of empty seats in the stadium told me this wasn’t an easy sell, and tickets went for less than a third of what’s being asked for the men’s final, not that £150 to watch the women was an insignificant sum.
The Belarusian was overcome with emotion after serving out to clinch the first Grand Slam singles title of her career in a thrilling final at Melbourne Park
Sabalenka and Rybakina received their trophies from tennis great Billie Jean King
The Belarusian paid tribute to her team in her acceptance speech at the Rod Laver Arena
Since the invasion of Ukraine that assisted her government in Sabalenka, she has remained neutral, asking what to do about it as an athlete with relatives living in Belarus.
There was no awkwardness or embarrassment in handing over the trophy, which was engraved with her name but not followed by that of her country.
She was reluctant to comment on that, saying, “I think everyone knows I’m a Belarusian player and that’s all. I think people (there) will be proud of me.’
In terms of tennis, she was emotional in the immediate aftermath of the match, having finally delivered the physical talent that always suggested a Major was within reach.
Rybakina won the first set 6-4 and looked on her way to a second Grand Slam title after her win at Wimbledon last July
But the Kazakh had no answers for Sabalenka as the world number 5 roared back into the match
The Belarusian scored 80 percent from her first serve, putting Rybakina under pressure
“It was really the best game I’ve played. I was just happy to process all the emotions in the last game,” she said, after seeing her first match point attempt end in a double fault.
Both players hit the ball with tremendous force.
In Sabalenka’s case, she can count on a firm physique, while Rybakina’s slimmer figure relies more on acute timing, as she showed at Wimbledon.
Sabalenka’s dreaded double faults hit in the first set when she delivered five, but her second serve improved after that and the points she managed to win turned the game around.
She was able to fight her way back into the competition and it was clear from afar that she would win the competition if she kept her nerve.