In a match that was all about power and strength, Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus triumphed to win the 2023 Australian Open and take home her first-ever Grand Slam trophy. She rallied to beat Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in an epic 2-hour, 28-minute battle.
Sabalenka double-faulted to start the match, an ominous sign, and was broken twice in a first set in which she double-faulted five times in losing 4-6 — the first set she lost in 2023.
But then Sabalenka got it going.
After saving two break points to open the second set, Sabalenka earned two break points, converting the second for a 3-1 lead. The first six games of the second set went to deuce before Sabalenka had a relatively easy service game to take a 5-2 lead. After letting a few set points slip away in the next game, Sabalenka closed out the second set with her strong serving.
We're going three 🙌@SabalenkaA takes the second set to level the women's singles final at 4-6 6-3.#AusOpen • #AO2023 pic.twitter.com/IGtgY3nl9d— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 28, 2023
Their three previous meetings were all decided in three sets. Saturday wasn't any different — and neither was the result.
Rybakina and Sabalenka both held serve — with some difficulty — in the final set until the fiery Sabalenka got the break she needed. At 3-3, Sabalenka converted on her third break opportunity of the game with an overhead slam to take a 4-3 lead. After both players held to make it 5-4, Sabalenka served for the match. Sabalenka let three match points slip away — and fought off her only break point of the final set — before securing the championship on her fourth attempt.
And then her emotions came pouring out.
Your #AO2023 women’s singles champion, @SabalenkaA 🙌@wwos • @espn • @eurosport • @wowowtennis • #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/5ggS5E7JTp— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 28, 2023
It's taken Sabalenka, 24, a few tries to get here. Over the past two years she's made three semifinals, but each time couldn't close the deal. A year ago at this tournament she was the No. 2 seed, but crashed out in the fourth round when she struggled to consistently execute her massive serve, which is one of her greatest assets. But that didn't happen Saturday. It was her first Grand Slam final, and she did not shrink from the moment.
But that's Sabalenka's style. Standing 6 feet tall, she's loud and unapologetic about her tennis. She grunts loudly when she hits the ball, shouts at herself after points (or missed shots), and doesn't try to hide any of her other feelings. It's an emotional way to play tennis, and she's been learning how to rein that in and take control of that. Via the BBC:
"I realized that nobody other than me will help. In pre-season, I spoke to my psychologist, saying: 'Listen, I feel like I have to deal with that by myself, because every time hoping that someone will fix my problem, it's not fixing my problem'," Sabalenka said.
"I just have to take this responsibility and I just have to deal with that. I'm my psychologist."
Ever since then, Sabalenka has been getting results. She won the Adelaide International in early January, the warm-up for the Australian Open, and coming into Saturday had yet to lose a match (or a set) in 2023, a streak of 10 in a row.
That streak is up to 11 now. Because this time, Sabalenka didn't crumble in the crucial moments, when it counted the most. She was finally able to put all the different parts of her game together and find the success that had been just out of reach for so long.