Aryna Sabalenka

Aryna Sabalenka won her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open on Saturday, defeating Kazakh 22nd seed Elena Rybakina 4-6 6-3 6-4 in a thrilling final between two of the game’s most exciting power-hitters.

With her 11th straight win of the year, the Belarussian will reclaim her career-high ranking of second behind Iga Swiatek, reaping the benefits of her improved mental stability and service to emerge as a genuine threat in major tournaments.

Rybakina took a comfortable 3-1 lead after fifth-seeded Sabalenka double-failed her huge serve and sent a forehand long, but the Kazakh buckled under pressure and allowed her opponent to level the first set at 4-4.

Aryna Sabalenka
Aryna Sabalenka

Rybakina responded quickly, turning up the heat in the windy conditions at Rod Laver Arena to take another break as Sabalenka double-faulted for the fifth time, and going on to seal the set with a big serve that the Belarusian returned into the net.

It was the first time in 11 matches that Adelaide champion Sabalenka had dropped a set, and the nerves began to show before the 24-year-old composed herself and saved two breakpoints in the first game of the next set.

Sabalenka then found some consistency to break, but she had to overcome a hiccup to take a 4-1 lead, after which she let out a huge roar and levelled the match with her 11th and final point.12th aces to force a third set at Melbourne Park.

Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka served with venom and hammered deep returns in the decider to breach Rybakina’s defence and take a 5-3 lead. She then double-failed on one matchpoint and blew two more before finally winning the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.

She walked over to Rybakina’s side of the court and hugged her before climbing up into her players box to embrace her teammates.

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