Aryna Sabalenka Starting To Reach Her Potential With Australian Open Triumph

Sabalenka defeated Elena Rybakina to collect her maiden singles Grand Slam title
17:19, 28 Jan 2023

Aryna Sabalenka made history on Saturday as she became the first neutral player to win a Grand Slam title as she defeated reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina to win the Australian Open.

The match was billed to be an explosive final with both players being two of the biggest hitters on the WTA Tour and it certainly didn’t disappoint. 

Sabalenka, who hails from Belarus, is the first neutral athlete to win a singles grand slam tournament since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Belarusian tennis players are banned from being able to compete with their flag next to their name and Sabalenka subsequently missed out on a place at Wimbledon last summer.

Saturday was Sabalenka’s first appearance in a singles Grand Slam final and it was a stunning way to win your first major title. She came from a set down to beat Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a match that pushed her all the way. Heading into the final, Sabalenka had only ever reached three Grand Slam semi-finals before, having done so at the past two US Opens and at Wimbledon in 2021. 


She has always been a player on the cusp of getting over the barrier to taste glory in a Grand Slam and she certainly removed that barrier at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. The 24-year-old continually stressed during her Australian Open run that her mentality had shifted and now she is a lot more collected in key moments, which she had shown when collecting the Adelaide International title earlier in the month. She certainly demonstrated  that in Saturday’s showpiece in Melbourne.

Sabalenka and Rybakina both played some extraordinary tennis and you feel that we could be set to see many more battles between the pair in Grand Slam finals, with this being Rybakina’s second appearance after her triumph at Wimbledon last year. In the end it was Sabalenka’s hunger for her first major title that saw her triumph over her opponent.

Although she gave herself work to do by losing the first set, Sabalenka wasn’t fazed because she had won all six of the Grand Slam matches last year where she lost the first set and again showed the strength of character inside the Rod Laver Arena in the most pressurised match of her career. 

Both players kept blazing winners from all parts of the court, but with her superior baseline game Sabalenka dominated rallies over four shots. She finally sealed the decisive break at 3-3 in the final set before seeing out two tense service games. On her fourth match point, Sabalenka forced an error from Rybakina, and collapsed to the ground as a Grand Slam champion at last. 

With her first major title, Sabalenka will return to No 2 in the world rankings, equalling her career-high ranking. 

“I kept telling myself: ‘Nobody tells you that it’s going to be easy, you just have to work for it, work for it till the last point.’” she said.

“I think it’s even more enjoyable, I would say, after all those tough matches,” Sabalenka said. “I really feel right now that I really needed those tough losses to kind of understand myself a little bit better. It was like a preparation.

“I actually feel happy that I lost those matches, so right now I can be a different player and just different Aryna.”

Now that Sabalenka knows what it feels like to be a singles Grand Slam champion, it will be interesting to see if she can build on that and start to reach the potential that has been set out for her over the past few years.

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