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"I'M STILL SHAKING": SABALENKA CLAIMS AUSTRALIAN OPEN TITLE IN INSTANT CLASSIC




[5] Aryna Sabalenka def [22] Elena Rybakina (KAZ) 4-6, 6-3, 6-4


Aryna Sabalenka is a major champion at last, after triumphing in an epic Australian Open final with Elena Rybakina.


The former world number two came from a set down to win a two-hour and 28-minute classic on Rod Laver Arena.


“I’m still shaking and super nervous,” Sabalenka said post-match.


“To my team – the craziest team on tour, I would say. We’ve been through a lot of downs last year.”


“You guys deserve this trophy. It’s more about you than about me. Thank you so much for everything you do for me.”


After a Sabalenka double fault commenced Saturday night proceedings on a near-perfect evening in Melbourne, both players held their opening service games in dominant fashion.


And just as the Belarusian looked headed for another comfortable service hold - leading 40-0 - a second double fault and multiple winners from the Kazakh helped her secure the opening break - and first blow - of the final.


A further exchange of breaks – mixed amid a series of clean service holds – saw a fast-paced first set go the way of the Wimbledon champion, 6-4.


Sabalenka’s ability to strike constant winners – as she had with ease all fortnight – was being negated early on by Rybakina’s constant depth and aggression, to earn her the one-set lead.


The now-Australian Open champion’s level rose dramatically after the opening set – ultimately firing 21 winners and just ten unforced errors in the second.


However, Rybakina continued to test the fifth seed’s game, creating break point opportunities in multiple games – all of which were fended off by the Belarusian.


The set was particularly marked by Sabalenka’s service hold at 3-1, sealing the game with an ace and releasing the loudest roar of the match to that point, from either player.


Already a memorable final through two sets – the contest became an Australian Open classic in the decider.


Four quick holds of serve to start the third created hopes of a possible third set tiebreak – which would have been the first in a women’s major final.


But any dreams of a breaker were soon dashed as Sabalenka’s incredible ball-striking and level rose once again.


After initially pressuring the Rybakina serve in the fifth game, it was at 3-3 where the four-time major semi-finalist secured the most significant break of her career – on the back of a series of incredible winners.


Forced to serve for the title at 5-4, the fifth seed saw her first three championship points go begging on the back of some nervous serving, before finally sealing her maiden Grand slam title.


“I was just super happy that I was able to handle all the emotions in the last game,” Sabalenka told the Channel nine panel.


Upon Rybakina’s final forehand landing long, Sabalenka collapsed to the court for a good minute – as all the work behind the scenes came together in one moment of pure jubilation.


Speaking post-match, the major champion praised her opponent and showed her appreciation for a near-capacity crowd.


“I want to congratulate Elena for an incredible two weeks,” Sabalenka said.


“You’re such a great player and of course we’re going to have many more battles – hopefully in the finals of Grand Slams,” she added.

“Thank you guys so much for an amazing atmosphere. It was enjoyable to play in front of you.”


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