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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Saturday, January 27, 2024


An explosive Aryna Sabalenka did not drop serve sweeping Zheng Qinwen 6-3, 6-2 to successfully defend her Australian Open championship in a lopsided 76-minute final.

Photo credit: Robert Prange/Getty

Aryna Sabalenka knows all about making a major mark in Melbourne.

Continuing her pre-match ritual, Sabalenka signed the top of her trainer’s bald head for good luck before tonight's final.

More: Richard Evans Q&A

Then the defending Australian Open champion delivered dominance on court.

Scripting whiplash strikes from the opening game, Sabalenka did not drop serve sweeping Zheng Qinwen 6-3, 6-2 to successfully defend her Australian Open championship in a 76-minute statement triumph.

"I'm speechless right now. I don't know how to describe my emotions," Sabalenka told the media in Melbourne. "But definitely I'm super, super happy and proud of everything I was able to achieve so far.

"Yeah, just happy with the level I played today. She's a great player and very tough opponent. I'm super happy that I was able to get this win today."

A sharp Sabalenka scored her 14th straight Australian Open victory, a year after she rallied past Elena Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the 2023 final.

The second-seeded Sabalenka is the first woman to defend the AO since her Belarusian compatriot, Victoria Azarenka, beat Li Na to seize her second straight Australian Open title in 2013.

While last year's final offered drama, tonight Sabalenka delivered dominance.

The five games Sabalenka permitted in this final makes it the most overwhelming AO final victory since Azarenka destroyed Maria Sharapova 6-3, 6-0 in the 2012 final.

"It’s been an amazing couple of weeks. And I couldn’t imagine myself lifting this trophy one more time," Sabalenka told the crowd. "It’s an unbelievable feeling right now and I’m a little speechless....

"I never speak about my family. Thanks so much for everything they’v done for me. I love you so much. You’re my biggest motivation and everything I do is for you. So I’m sending love and I really miss you so much."

Once derided for her schizophrenic serve issues, Sabalenka was untouchable on serve tonight.

Striking with poise and power, Sabalenka served 67 percent, won 32 of 38 first-serve points and saved all four break points she faced. 

The 21-year-old Chinese called her maiden major final a learning experience and vowed she will be back.

“First of all I want to say congratulations to Aryna you have such a wonderful match here. It's my first final I’m feeling a little bit [nerovus] but that’s how it is, it’s an experience for me," Zheng said. "At the same time I want to say thanks for all the fans who come to watch me. I feel right now very complicated I feel I could do better…

"It’s an amazing memory for me. I’m sure there is gonna be more and better in the future…Thanks again to all you guys.”

Afterward, Zheng said Sabalenka's surge at the start doomed her to a quick finish.

"I think the [difference] is the beginning, I can't hold the service game," Zheng said. "Then later on, when I got the chance to break her 40-Love up and I'm not able to make it. You know, that little moment makes the match so different.

"You know, if I play against Sabalenka's this level, if you don't take this chance the match went away really fast. She's a really aggressive player. If you let a chance go, it will happen like today.

"There is nothing more I can say in the match. Because basically I think I could done much better than that."

The explosive Sabalenka is the fifth woman in the Open Era to capture the Australian Open without surrendering a set. A dominant Sabalenka joins Lindsay Davenport, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and Ash Barty winning the Happy Slam without dropping a set.

It is Sabalenka’s 14th career championship with 12 of those titles coming on hard courts.

The 25-year-old Sabalenka zapped Zheng 6-1, 6-4 in the US Open quarterfinals last September and immediately imposed the same game plan tonight battering the Chinese contender's forehand until it bled errors. Zheng never really adjusted to the forehand flurry coming at her.

A strong Sabalenka sped through eight of the first nine points to take charge from the start.

Pummeling the Zheng forehand, Sabelanka repeatedly whipped the wide serve on the deuce side to displace the Chinese before unloading her own heavy forehands.

The reigning champion denied triple break point emerging from a love-40 hole to hold for 3-0.

The Grand Slam final debutant held at love to finally get on the board.

Undeterred, Sabalenka charged through eight of her next nine serve points stretching her lead to 5-2.

On her fifth set point, Sabalenka scorched the wide serve to seal the 33-minute opening set.

Seeing a fresh start, Zheng found familiar misery to start the second set.

The 12th-seeded Chinese squandered a 30-love lead and hit her fourth double fault of the match to cede the opening break and a 1-0 lead.

Continuing to slam shots into the corners, Sabalenka backed up the break at 15 for a one-set, 2-0 lead.

Struggling to tame her toss, Zheng double faulted to face a break point in the fifth game.

Battering a series of big backhands crosscourt, Sabalenka forced a scrambling Zheng to defend then ended a 16-shot really sliding a short backhand winner. That shot gave Sabalenka her third service break and a 4-1 lead.

The woman wearing the Tiger tattoo on her left forearm stormed out to triple championship point, but could not close.

A stubborn Zheng saved four championship points then saw Sabalenka erase a break point in that eighth game.

Embed from Getty Images

Grunting louder, Sabalenka roared reaching a fifth championship point.

This time the champion crushed a crosscourt forehand winner wrapping a dominant display that saw her sweep seven consecutive straight-sets wins.

The second-ranked Sabalenka raised her 2024 record to 11-1. She opened the season managing just three games in a Brisbane blow-out final loss to Rybakina.

Successfully defending her Australian Open championship, Sabalenka showed the world she's much more than a powerful one-Slam wonder.

"Actually it's been in my mind that I didn't want to be that player who win it and then disappeared," Sabalenka said. "I just wanted to show that I'm able to be consistently there and I'm able to win another one. I really hope that more, more than two right now, but for me was really important.

"That's why, no matter what the result, like, win or lose, we are always working hard, we always looking for things to improve in my game. It's all about the process and make sure that, about the discipline, make sure that you're always there, you always show up, and you always work hard."

Throughout this dominant Melbourne fortnight, Sabalenka warmed up for every match signing her physio's bald pate, she departs etching her name on the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.

Wearing the wide smile of a champion, Sabalenka not only moved closer to regaining the world No. 1 ranking, she set a mission statement for the rest of the season: Win a Slam title on clay or grass.

"I think last year I proved that I can play on each surface," Sabalenka said. "I think those two semifinals I get super emotional. I lost, not like my matches. I played against incredible players, and they just played unbelievable level, but I felt like I got super emotional and I just let that semis go away.

"But I definitely think that if I'm going to keep working like I'm working right now, and if we're going to keep building what we are building right now, I'm definitely able to do the same on the clay and on the grass.

"So then I'll just keep working hard and hopefully this year I'll achieve the same goal on the clay or on the grass."


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