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How Sabalenka conquered Melbourne: A crying opponent, a perfect record and a goal achieved

Aryna Sabalenka with the Australian Open trophy
Aryna Sabalenka with the Australian Open trophyProfimedia
At the first Grand Slam of the season, one woman was a long way ahead of the rest as Aryna Sabalenka (25) became the first player in 11 years to defend her Australian Open title.

She may be second in the world rankings, but in her current state of mind she is undoubtedly stronger than Iga Swiatek. She showed how eager she was for another triumph and how mentally strong she was from the very first match.

When qualifier Ella Siedel tried to resist her in the first round, there was one remarkable moment. The German player burst into tears after one of her failed volleys. However, Sabalenka showed no remorse, only adding more intensity to her game and destroying her unfortunate opponent.

She remained that way on the court as she progressed through the tournament, but after the matches, she appeared in press conferences relaxed, confident and smiling. She has in the past seemed somewhat immature, but has now become confident and self-assured.

"There were times when I really thought I would never win a Grand Slam. There were a lot of ups and downs, but I didn't want to give up. Then at the end of the journey, you see if you were destined to do it or not. I just had to stop thinking negatively, that's all," she said after winning her second Grand Slam title.

She also mentioned her late father, who introduced her to tennis: "I lost him four years ago. But we had one dream, that I would win a couple of Grand Slams by the age of 25. When he died, I started thinking about it too much. My family makes me very nostalgic. It was only when I relaxed that things started to happen."

And indeed, at 25, she now already has two major titles.

Key moments

Sabalenka vs Fruhvirtova 6-3, 6-2

In the second round came a duel with the Czech 16-year-old sensation, and with it Sabalenla's first lost serve of the tournament, as Fruhvirtova broke her with a clean game to level things up at 2-2 in the first set. Sabalenka broke the teenager's resistance only at the end of that set, when she rebounded to make it 5-3. After that, the match was a one-sided affair.

Sabalenka vs Gauff 7-6, 6-4

The toughest test. From 5-2 up in the first set, the Belarusian lost four games in a row and Gauff served to win it. However, Sabalenka averted the crisis, broke the American's serve and dominated the tiebreak. In the second set, the rising American star kept pace for a long time but faltered in the end and was punished for it.

Sabalenka vs Qinwen Zheng 6-3, 6-2

She had the pressure of being the favourite, but Sabalenka handled her final test confidently. She only let her Chinese opponent get a break point four times during the match, and Qinwen Zheng couldn't take advantage of any of those opportunities to make the match a tight affair. The only real drama came in the last game of the match, in which Sabalenka needed five match points to complete the job.

Important numbers

5

Sabalenka became the fifth player in the 21st century to win a Grand Slam in Melbourne without losing a single set. Before her, Lindsay Davenport managed a similar feat in 2000, Maria Sharapova in 2008, Serena Williams in 2017 and Ashleigh Barty in 2022. Australia's Barty lost just 30 games on her way to the title, Sabalenka one more.

12

This year's Australian Open was Sabalenka's 12th hard-court title. Ironically, the last time she triumphed on the surface was last year in Melbourne. Since then, she has lost three finals on it - in Indian Wells, at the US Open and this year in Brisbane.

8:11

The winner of the first Grand Slam of the year spent just eight hours and 11 minutes on court, so it was more of a sprint to the finish than a gruelling slog. Her time en route to the trophy was shorter than Daniil Medvedev needed in the quarter-finals and semi-finals alone to beat Hubert Hurkacz and Alexander Zverev.

Sabalenka's tennis is certainly not among the prettiest on the circuit, but it is undoubtedly some of the most effective. The power of her shots can hardly be countered by the women's field when the champion is calm and confident. When she is not, rivals have an opportunity, thanks mainly to unforced errors by the Belarusian player, but that didn't happen in Melbourne.

Sabalenka may now have reached the age where she can be said to be an experienced player. She believes in her game and has added a winning mentality to her undoubted talent.

"For a long time, I longed not to be the one who wins a Grand Slam and then disappears. I wanted to show that I am capable of being at the top all the time. I really believe that I will keep winning. Right now I have two major tournament titles, but for me, it's also important in proving that I can repeat the triumphs," she said after her win.

Sabalenka has only managed to win in Melbourne so far when it comes to Majors. At the US Open she lost the final, and in both Paris and Wimbledon her best result is the semi-finals.

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