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Aryna Sabalenka Edges Elena Rybakina in Dramatic Australian Open Final

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 28: Aryna Sabalenka poses with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup after winning the Women’s Singles Final match against Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan during day 13 of the 2023 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 28, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Banging a clenched fist off her thigh, Aryna Sabalenka spiked her spirit and slammed stress in the final dizzying game of a dramatic Australian Open final.

Striking with determined bite, the woman wearing the Tiger tattoo roared back from a set down, pounded pressure and pulled off the comeback of her career.

In a brilliant and sometime breathtaking final, a fierce Sabalenka subdued Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to capture her maiden major title with audacious shotmaking and unbreakable self belief.

Four years after the passing of her beloved father, Sergey, who introduced her to tennis after passing a local court when she was six years old, and less than a year after her serve was such a mess she was clanking double digit double faults and serving under handed, a stubborn Sabalenka made a stand and delivered the most dynamic tennis of her life in a two hour, 28-minute triumph of will and spirit.

The beaming Belarusian improved to 11-0 on the season winning her 12th career title in her first major final.

Courageous in closing, a smiling and giggling Sabalenka was charming as a maiden major champion.

“Sorry for my English because I’m still shaking and super nervous. Secondly, you [Billie Jean King] are such an inspiration to receive the trophy from you thank you for everything you’ve done for our sport,” Sabalenka said. “Elena, you’re such a great player of course we’re going to have many more battles hopefully in the finals of Grand Slams.”

In a triumph for herself and fans worldwide who have suffered shattering setbacks of their own, Sabalenka beat back demons of self doubt, slayed stress and out-served one of the game’s most imposing servers.

In a fight to the finish, Sabalenka smacked 17 aces against 7 double faults, while Rybakina served with command clubbing nine aces against one double fault while denying 10 of 13 break points.

“I would like to congratulate Aryna with the title and with a great start to the season,” Rybakina said. “Adelaide and here I know how hard you worked for that. So congratulations and good luck the rest of the season. Hopefully we’re gonna have many more battles…

“Hopefully next year, I’m gonna have same result even better.”

As pressure peaked in the final game, Sabalenka saw three championship points slip from her grip

On this night, nothing was stopping Sabalenka. 

Continuing to hammer away, Sabalenka was scorching groundstrokes over 80 mph throughought the final set.

On her fourth championship point, Sabalenka’s resilience was rewarded. Sabalenka drew a final floated forehand then dropped to the court, gave herself time for a good cry and absorb it all.

The woman who was down in the double fault dumps for much of 2022 arose as the first Grand Slam champion  of 2023.

Despite defeat, Moscow-born Rybakina makes history as the first Kazakhstan woman to crack the Top 10. Rybakina knocked off three Grand Slam championse—world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka—en route to her second major final solidifying her status as a Grand Slam force for years to come.

“I think Aryna raise her level in the second set. She played really well, aggressive, a bit less mistakes,” Rybakina told the media in Melbourne. “I should have been also more aggressive in some moments.

“Yeah, I had some chances, for sure, to turn it around. But, yeah, she played really well today. She was strong mentally, physically. Yeah, overall, as I said, it was a good two weeks for me.”

Echoes of thumping strikes reverberated throughout Rod Laver Arena as two of tennis’ premier power players took turns detonating points. Launching offensive fireworks, they combined for 82 winners over three sets.

Neither woman was willing to back off the baseline so the first strike was magnified.

Belting the ball with ambition, Sabalenka hit 51 winners against just 28 errors cracking drives even after errors and gulping deep breaths of air to calm herself when things got a bit crazy at the climax.

Playing her second Slam final in the last three majors, Rybakina showed stiff resolve of her own forcing Sabalenka to face pressure right up until the final point.

Ultimately, Sabalenka’s superior serving, slightly quicker court coverage that enabled her to scrape back some low shots and her skill targeting Rybakina’s weaker, and more predictable, forehand wing on pivotal points were key components in a tremendous title match.