Since the start of her title defense two weeks ago, Aryna Sabalenka has been fully prepared. Not only has she displayed impressive shot-making abilities, but she has also shown great emotional maturity by remaining unfazed by the pressure of defending her first grand slam title. Instead, she focuses solely on the next point.
Throughout the tournament, it was evident that Sabalenka was performing at a superior level compared to her opponents. However, she still had to maintain her composure and handle the intense pressure of a major final. In the end, she successfully defended her title with unwavering determination, overpowering Zheng Qinwen 6-3, 6-2 to claim her second grand slam victory.
In her remarkable debut season, Sabalenka achieved great success and it is unlikely that she will experience a decline in her second year. She is only the second woman in the Open Era to win her first two Grand Slam titles at the Australian Open, following in the footsteps of fellow Belarusian Victoria Azarenka who accomplished this feat in 2012 and 2013.
“I have experienced some pressure over the past two weeks, but I am extremely pleased that I was able to handle it and perform at a high level,” she stated. “It’s a unique feeling and it’s difficult to put into words just how amazing it is.”
On this occasion, she easily won each round without losing a single set. The only opponent to win more than three games against her was Coco Gauff, who was defeated 7-6 (4), 6-4 in the semi-finals. She only gave up 31 games in total, coming in second to Ash Barty for the fewest games lost on the way to winning an Australian Open title in the 21st century.
Sabalenka has once again shown her determination and skill in winning multiple titles. Despite her aggressive play style, the 25-year-old has proven to be consistently successful on all types of courts and in different conditions. In her last six grand slam competitions, Sabalenka has earned two championships, one runner-up finish, and three semi-final appearances.
Despite Sabalenka’s strong performances in major tournaments last year, she often struggled with maintaining her mental composure. However, her ability to handle pressure during this tournament, even after facing tough opponents, could influence her performance for the rest of the year. She mentioned her defeat in the US Open final against Gauff, despite initially leading, as a valuable lesson learned.
She stated, “I have transformed both as a person and as a player. I have gained valuable experience playing in the final stages of major tournaments, and my loss in the US Open was a difficult moment for me.”
The defeat served as a strong drive for me to put in extra effort and enhance my skills. This will give me the confidence and self-assurance to perform better in future finals.
During the match, there was a temporary pause due to demonstrators showing their solidarity with the Palestinian community. While Sabalenka was leading 6-3, 2-0, two individuals displayed a flag of Palestine and chanted “Free Gaza” before being removed from the venue by security. This marks the third protest at this event in the current year.
The Australian Open is known for promoting itself as the major tennis tournament in the Asia-Pacific region, and the initial rounds of the competition demonstrated why. Zheng had strong support from the crowd, with many Chinese fans in Rod Laver Arena loudly chanting “jiayou”, which means “C’mon” in English. Unfortunately for them, there was not much to celebrate.
Sabalenka’s intense nature is a stark contrast to her relaxed demeanor outside of competition. Prior to the final match, she kept herself occupied by playfully signing her name on her bald trainer’s head, balancing a water bottle on his head, and kicking it off with a roundhouse kick.
She and her team maintained a cheerful atmosphere and she appeared calm when she entered the court. Sabalenka quickly gained momentum in the match by hitting the ball with intense force, breaking serve and taking a 3-0 lead.
As the initial series progressed, Sabalenka’s consistent strength, depth, and accuracy quickly overpowered Zheng, who is more comfortable in slower settings that give her more opportunity to prepare her shots. Although Zheng managed to maintain her serve afterwards, she was never able to challenge Sabalenka’s serve.
After advancing through the bracket where the top-ranked players were eliminated, Zheng made it to her first major tournament final without defeating anyone in the top 50. She was not expecting the intense pressure from Sabalenka and felt overwhelmed as she constantly had to defend herself during rallies.
Although Zheng had performed admirably in the latter half of the first set, the stress she was under was evident in her three double faults in the first game of the second set, resulting in her giving up the break easily. After this, Sabalenka loosened up and unleashed her powerful shots, solidifying her place as one of the top players of her time.