[Melbourne, Australia]The serve was big. very big. some other shots. The point ended quickly. In no time, his seven of his first thirteen were aces.
And in the Australian Open women’s final between Alina Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina, whoever manages to keep her serve in line, read the returns and stay steady in the tightest moments wins. It soon became clear.
It turned out to be 24-year-old Sabalenka from Belarus. Sabalenka won her first Grand Slam title on Saturday night, defeating her Wimbledon champion Ryvakina at her Park in Melbourne 4-6 6-3 6-4. She served 17 aces of her 51 total winners and overcame seven double faults.
Sabalenka’s remarks during the post-match ceremony were aimed at her coach Anton Dubrov and her fitness trainer Jason Stacy, who she called them “the craziest team on tour.” I was there.
“We went through a lot of downs last year,” said Sabalenka, who was competing in her first major final. “We worked hard and you guys deserve this trophy. It’s more about you than it is about me.”
Currently going 11-0 in 2023 and having already won two titles, she was a strong player whose most shining strength was also her most glaring flaw: her serve. Able to hit an ace for a long time, she also has a well-known problem with double faults, which she recorded nearly 400 times in the double fault category last year, and in some matches she has been hit by a has recorded more than 20 times.
After many recommendations from her group, she finally agreed to have the serving mechanism overhauled last August. That, along with my efforts to stay calm during the most pressureful moments, is now really paying off.
The only set she dropped all season was Saturday’s opener against Ryvakina, where she defeated No. 1 Iga Sfiatek in four rounds.
But Sabalenka turned things around with aggressive style and, importantly, never gave up, breaking Ryvakina three times and finally taking a 4-3 lead in the third set.
Still, Sabalenka had to work her way up to the championship, but served in the final game, committing a double fault on her first match point and demanding three more to finish things off.
As Ryvakina hit a long forehand to win the final in nearly two and a half hours, Sabalenka lay on her back on the court, briefly covering her face and crying.
Sabalenka was 0-3 in the Grand Slam semi-finals before beating Magdalinette in Melbourne. Now Sabalenka is one step ahead of him and in the rankings he rises to second place.
Ryvakina and Sabalenka traded powerful serves as seagulls roared overhead in the Rod Laver Arena. Rybakina’s fastest was her 121 mph (195 kmph) and Sabalenka’s fastest was her 119 mph (192 kmph). They traded zooming groundstrokes from the baseline, often out of hand, producing winner after winner.
“Hopefully,” Ryvakina said after the match.
Here are the final important stats: Sabalenka scored his 13 break points and Ryvakina scored his 7 break points. Sabalenka’s three conversions were enough for her, but Ryvakina’s service The constant pressure she kept on during her game had to take a toll.
In the past two weeks, Sabalenka has been broken only six times in 55 service games. Ryvakina took less than 10 minutes to measure things in all two games she received and took a 2-1 lead.
A few games later, Sabalenka returned the favor, placing her racket on one of Rybakina’s products at the same speed. Then, as Sabalenka grabbed her first break by ditching her pass winner down the line and tied at 4 her oars, she saw Dubrov and Stacey in the stands, and she raised his fist and shouted.
But in the next game, Sabalenka returned that right turn and committed two double faults, including a break point, to give Ryvakina a 5-4 advantage. This time, Sabalenka turned to her entourage again, sighing, widening her eyes and stretching out her arms, as if to say, “Can you believe it?”
Soon after, Rybakina fell in love with owning the set.
Sabalenka changed her momentum early in the second set. Attacking aggressively, she broke and she went up 3-1, held 4-1 and eventually served properly with an ace on her second serve.
Sabalenka admitted up front that she would be nervous. This was the most important match of her career so far.
And if those tensions were evident early on (she committed a double fault at the opening point of the evening) and seemed to resurface as the end approached, Sabalenka managed them well. I finished my work.