Aryna Sabalenka has become the first woman to win back-to-back Australian Opens in 11 years following a straight-sets victory over Qinwen Zheng in the final.
Sabalenka, who did not drop a set during the tournament, overpowered the Chinese 12th seed to triumph 6-3, 6-2 in one hour and 16 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.
The last player to lift the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup in consecutive years was Sabalenka’s fellow Belarusian Victoria Azarenka, who won in 2012 and 2013.
Sabalenka got off to the best possible start, serving to love in the opening game before breaking Zheng, who was making her first appearance in a major final.
Second-seeded Sabalenka held again for a 3-0 lead, although faced three break points as Zheng showed signs she was getting over her early nerves.
Zheng landed two consecutive aces on her way to holding serve in the fourth game, but the break Sabalenka had up her sleeve meant she remained the front runner.
When leading 5-2, Sabalenka had three set points on Zheng’s serve, but her 21-year-old opponent won six of the next seven points — with the aid of three aces — to hold.
It delayed the inevitable, however, as Sabalenka served out the set in the following game.
Zheng’s serve can be a weapon, illustrated by the fact she recorded the most aces in the tournament.
But it can also be erratic, and this was evident when she served three double faults in the opening game of the second set to give up a break.
Sabalenka then held serve to establish a 2-0 advantage, before play was briefly halted during the third game while security removed protesters from the crowd.
Following the resumption of play, Zheng got on the board in the second set with a service hold but she was broken in the fifth game.
A deft backhand drop shot sealed the double break and a 4-1 lead for Sabalenka, who later served for the match at 5-2.
At 40-0, she gave herself three championships points but blew each one, as Zheng got the score to deuce.
Zheng saved another championship point and was on the verge of securing a break, before Sabalenka composed herself to hold serve and seal victory.
There was some consolation for Zheng following her defeat, as she will rise to a career-high ranking of seven in the world.
Sabalenka will remain at number two, behind Iga Świątek.
Pick the winner
Matt Ebden coming up in the men’s doubles final
Can we get a local on the winner’s podium?
Aussie Matt Ebden is coming up in a few minutes in the men’s doubles final alongside Rohan Bopanna.
They’re taking on Italian pair Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori.
Qinwen Zheng climbs into the top 10
Qinwen Zheng is clearly absolutely gutted out there, but I think she’s finally been excused after a few more photos with the runner-up trophy alongside her victor.
But, come Monday, Zheng will be in the top 10 in the rankings for the first time, jumping up from 15 to 7.
Jeļena Ostapenko is the unlucky player to drop out.
Aryna Sabalenka delivers a ‘weird’ victory speech as promised
Aryna Sabalenka on the mic is always an interesting experience.
It starts normal enough as Evonne Goolagong Cawley presents her with the trophy…
“Thank you Evonne for being such and inspiration for all of us. Receiving this trophy from you is such an honour for me.”
She tells Qinwen Zheng to keep her chin up and says she’ll be back…
“I know this feeling is really tough but you’re such a young girl and you’re gonna be in many more finals and you’re gonna get it.”
But, after 14 straight sets won and a second successive title, she says “it’s been an amazing couple of weeks”.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling right now. I’m speechless. As always my speech is gonna be weird.”
Sabalenka credits her team…
“Without you I wouldn’t be able to achieve so much in this sport. Thank you so much for everything yo do for me.
“But without me you wouldn’t be so good as well.”
And lastly, to her family, particularly her late father…
“Thank you so much for everything they’ve done for me.
“Should I keep speaking English because they’re not going to understand. Hopefully they’ll translate.
“I love you so much. You’re my biggest motivation and everything I’m doing I’m doing for you.”
Qinwen Zheng has ‘complicated’ feelings after brutal loss
Qinwen Zheng congratulates Aryna Sabalenka on playing a “wonderful match”, and says she’s struggling with the bittersweet feeling of making her first grand slam final, only to be blown off the court.
“It’s my first final and I’m feeling a little bit pity.
“I feel very complicated because I feel like I could’ve done it better.
“I really enjoyed playing in this Australian Open. I’m sure there is going to be more and better in the future.”
Fulfilling a promise
In the recent Netflix documentary series Break Point, Aryna Sabalenka revealed she and her dad had spoken about the dream of her winning two grand slam singles titles before she turned 25 years old.
Unfortunately, her father died before he got the chance to see his daughter win one, but now she’s fulfilled that dream and blew a kiss skyward.
Aryna Sabalenka is a double Australian Open champion
The only thing resembling a stumble for Aryna Sabalenka in this match came in that last game, but she held her nerve to win her second straight Australian Open on her fifth championship point.
Not only has she won the crown for a second straight time, she’s done it without dropping a set all tournament.
Qinwen Zheng fought hard tonight, but Sabalenka refused to give her a chance in this match as she powered to a 6-3, 6-2 win.
That’s now two titles, one runner-up finish and three semifinals from the past six grand slam tournaments. She is still ranked second behind Iga Świątek, but Sabalenka does feel like the most dangerous player in the women’s tour at the moment.
Aryna Sabalenka serving for the championship
First of four points is in the bag with a wide serve that Zheng can’t get back. 15-0
Zheng attacks the second serve and sprays her backhand wide and long. 30-0
Another big serve down the middle from Sabalenka, and Zheng nets the backhand return. 40-0
Three championship points for Aryna Sabalenka…
She misses the first one! She had a wide-open court to aim her prolific cross-court forehand at and just sent it wide. 40-15
Another one goes begging as she tries to redirect down the line and sends the forehand long. 40-30
We’re back to deuce! Sabalenka is beating herself up as Zheng’s defence keeps her in the point and nails a drop shot to win it.
Sabalenka gets another look at championship point with a booming serve out wide that Zheng can’t return.
Will it be fourth-time’s the charm for Aryna Sabalenka? No! Zheng goes after a second serve and forces the running forehand error from Sabalenka. Deuce
Break point for Zheng! Power from the Chinese dictates from the back of the court, but Sabalenka is getting into her own head a bit in this game.
Ace out wide saves it. She’s shrugging and looking at her box as if to say ‘Why couldn’t I do that on match point?’. Deuce
Sabalenka lets out a searing “COME ON!!” as Zheng sends a forehand long.
And she’s done it! Winning with a forehand on championship point number five!
Qinwen Zheng asks Sabalenka to serve for the title
Sabalenka hits a miraculous bootlaces volley, but Zheng passes with her backhand. 15-0
And another running winner for Zheng gets her to 30-0.
An incredibly gentle second serve at just 135kph swings directly into Sabalenka’s backhand, and she creams it back. 30-15
Zheng reaches 40-15, and Sabalenka can’t get her second serve back into play.
Zheng holds and forces Sabalenka to serve for it.
Sabalenka moves within one game of the crown
Zheng has a little look-in as Sabalenka nets a forehand and a backhand. 0-30
But Sabalenka reverts to form with a booming serve out wide that Zheng can’t get back. 15-30
And Zheng sprays her backhand return long. 30-30
Zheng tries to guess out wide to her forehand wing, but Sabalenka bangs the serve down the middle and Zheng can’t get it back. 40-30
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Big serve, big forehand winner, point Sabalenka. That’s game and another hold.
The end is nigh as Aryna Sabalenka gets the double break in the second set
A little something different from Zheng. It looked like Sabalenka was starting to pick the wide serve sliding away from her in the deuce court, so Zheng bangs her first serve down the middle and follows up with a drop shot off the gentle return. 15-0
But Zheng puts herself under pressure again with a missed running backhand and a fifth double fault. 15-30
Sabalenka rushes the net and Zheng’s forehand passing shot is too much for Sabalenka to handle. 30-30
A winner and an unforced error on Zheng’s backhand get us to deuce, and she gives Sabalenka a break point with her sixth double fault. Advantage Sabalenka
Sabalenka gets the double break with a perfect drop shot. The reigning champ leads 4-1 and feels unstoppable right now.
Sabalenka remains perfect on serve to reach 3-1
I never get sick of watching Sabalenka play. Just pure, undiluted power.
Zheng has a little look-in at 15-30, but Sabalenka snuffs it out in a hurry.
Her serve and forehand combo is humming and looks just about unbeatable.
Zheng just can’t get into rallies unless she gets a look at a second serve. Sabalenka has won 23/25 points on her first serve.
Zheng holds her nerve as protesters disrupt her serve
As Qinwen Zheng is preparing to serve at advantage, some pro-Palestine protesters have gotten up and started shouting.
Security shuffled them out pretty quick smart, and Zheng converts just as sharply.
Credit to her for staying focused there.
Sabalenka holds in a hurry once again to reach 2-0 in the second set
Only two of 63 points in this match have lasted longer than nine shots.
A lot of big serves and forehand power.
Uh oh. Sabalenka breaks to start the second set
Qinwen Zheng gets to 30-0 to start, but three double faults hands Aryna Sabalenka the comeback break in the first game of the set.
Zheng needs to find another level or this could be over in an hour.
Aryna Sabalenka is halfway to another Australian Open title
It took five set points, but the second seed takes the opening frame 6-3 in 33 minutes.
Credit to Qinwen Zheng for fighting so hard to stay in the set and force Sabalenka to serve for it, but that break in the second game proves too big a mountain to overcome.
Aryna Sabalenka serving for the set
Sabalenka gets the all-important first point as Zheng fails to get her serve back.
Zheng wins a forehand exchange with Sabalenka, which not many players can do. But Zheng’s running forehand forces the error. Her athleticism is going to win her a lot of points.
A couple of errors from Zheng give Sabalenka two set points.
Guts from Zheng, getting a look at a second serve at 40-15 and absolutely demolishing a cross-court forehand return at Sabalenka’s toes. Still one set point left though.
Boom. Sabalenka won’t be denied again.
Zheng saves three straight set points!
Facing three break and set points at 0-40, Zheng goes ace, winner, ace to get back to deuce.
Sabalenka tries to drill a backhand return winner off the second serve but finds the net and gives Zheng game point.
But the Chinese 21-year-old gives the point right back with her first double fault. I might be projecting, but it felt like that was a product of how aggressive Sabalenka’s been in attacking second serves.
Bang! BANG! Ace and unreturnable from Zheng. Clutch serving from the rookie.
After just 23 minutes, Aryna Sabalenka is one game away from winning the opener
The Belarusian second seed is working the forehand as we expected and it’s proving effective particularly after big first serves.
In four service games she’s dropped just four points.
Qinwen Zheng keeps us on serve at 4-2
She’s holding well now. It feels like that opening service game was just a meek start from a first-time finalist.
It could prove costly in this set, as will missing out on a break back from 0-40, but hopefully she’s into this set for real now because her best can challenge Sabalenka.
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