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Sabalenka Rolls To Australian Open Title

Jan 27th 2024

Sabalenka subdues Qinwen Zheng 6-3, 6-2 for Australian Open title

Aryna Sabalenka tore through the draw without the loss of a set to defend her title at the Australian Open. The world #2 from Belarus was not the clear favorite when the fortnight commenced. Elena Rybakina whom Sabalenka defeated in last year’s final, was deemed the front-runner after handcuffing her in the Brisbane final earlier this month.  

As the seeds began to fall including world #1 Iga Swiatek, the stars seemed to align. Sabalenka’s father who passed away suddenly four years ago at the age of forty-three, had several lofty goals for his daughter. One has been fulfilled this evening Melbourne; a second grand slam title at the age of twenty-five. 

Sabalenka dispatched three seeded players en route to the final including world #4 Coco Gauff in the semis. The nineteen-year-old from the US defeated Sabalenka in three at the US Open last fall to win her first grand slam title. Sabalenka relished the opportunity to turn the tables down under and advance to her second consecutive Aussie Open final.

Qinwen Zheng from China is just twenty-one years old but with two career titles last season, achieved a career-high ranking of #15. Voted WTA newcomer of the year in 2022 and most improved player last season, she survived three, three-set matches in her third Australian Open but had yet to face a seeded player.  

Photo Credit: Getty Images

This was their second tour-level meeting and second at a slam. In the quarters at the 2023 US Open, Sabalenka lost just five games. Qinwen won the toss and elected to receive. 

On Rod Laver Arena in cool, breezy conditions, Sabalenka struck two winners including an ace up the tee, and held at love while Qinwen donated three unforced errors and dumped serve.

Sabalenka faced triple break point but consolidated the break with a blistering backhand winner and four errors from her opponent. Qinwen held at love for 1-3 with three consecutive winners including two aces and Sabalenka returned the favor with a love hold for 4-1.

Qinwen missed three consecutive first serves but with a huge one out wide and her third ace, held to 15 while Sabalenka held easily for 4-2 with three spectacular crosscourt forehands on game point.

Qinwen serving to stay in the set with new balls, missed 5/10 first serves and faced triple break point but with three additional aces and a fantastic inside-out forehand, held for 3-5.  

Sabalenka opened the ninth with a monster serve out wide and with another, converted her second set point. While the Chinese superstar seemed to have steadied her nerves, she continued to struggle with Sabalenka’s weight of shot. 

Qinwen served first in the second and with three double faults, dropped serve. The defending champion was laser-focused as she struck her second ace and consolidated the break for 2-0.

The 12th seed made 5/8 first serves and with two remarkable forehand winners, held for 1-2. Sabalenka supremely confident in her fitness and mental fortitude, hit two formidable winners off the ground to hold for 3-1 while Qinwen gifted two more double faults and dropped serve when Sabalenka crushed a crosscourt backhand winner. 

The #2 seed committed two consecutive errors but with three colossal serves and an inside-in forehand winner, held for 5-1. Qinwen serving to stay in the match opened with two consecutive groundstroke winners and held to 15 to force her opponent to serve it out. 

Sabalenka reached triple match point but struggled to secure victory as the unforced errors from her forehand accrued. She faced three deuce and break points but with her second ace and an extraordinary crosscourt forehand, reasserted her dominance and triumphed. 

Qinwen’s game has major upside. As the second grand slam finalist from China since Hall of Famer Li Na in 2014, she will be top ten when the new rankings are released on Monday. 

The defending champion was all business in a 1 ¼ hour championship match that underscored power, precision, and first-strike tennis. Sabalenka finished with three aces, zero double faults, and won 84% of first and 42% of second serve points.

She won 62% of second serve return points, saved 4/4 break points while converting 3/6, and broke even on winners to unforced errors (14/14). 

Sabalenka is the first woman since Victoria Azarenka – also from Belarus – to win consecutive titles in Melbourne (2012 & 2013) and just the fifth since 2000 to win the title without dropping a set.