Aryna Sabalenka came from a set down and capitalized on 17 aces and a late overpowering stroke to defeat Elena Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 and win her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open on Saturday in Melbourne.
It was the first Grand Slam final for Sabalenka, the tournament's fifth seed. She captured the championship in two hours, 28 minutes on her fourth match point when Rybakina's forehand went long.
Sabalenka previously reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 2021 and at the U.S. Open each of the past two years.
"I think it's even more enjoyable, I would say, after all those tough matches," said Sabalenka, a 24-year-old from Belarus. "I really feel right now that I really needed those tough losses to kind of understand myself a little bit better. It was like a preparation.
"I actually feel happy that I lost those matches, so right now I can be a different player and just different Aryna."
With the No. 22 seed Rybakina, the reigning Wimbledon champion serving at 3-3 in the third set, Sabalenka turned up the heat on her opponent. While the average speed of her forehand had been about 77 mph throughout the match, Sabalenka found another gear and hit 87 mph with her forehand in that pivotal game and gained a service break.
In all, Sabalenka hit more aces (17 to 9) and winners (51 to 31). Her 17 aces were the second most in a WTA Tour final since 2008.
Rybakina, 23, gave the credit to Sabalenka.
"I would say that not many girls can put me really under the pressure," Rybakina told reporters. "Against her, it's not easy because she has a great serve and she plays really aggressive. Her ball is coming very heavy. There is maybe few girls who plays like this.
"Today I had some opportunities. Didn't take."
Rybakina took advantage of shakiness from Sabalenka -- five double faults -- in the first set before Sabalenka found her composure.
"I think Aryna raise her level in the second set," Rybakina said. "She played really well, aggressive, a bit less mistakes. I should have been also more aggressive in some moments. She was strong mentally, physically."
When the new rankings come out on Monday, Sabalenka will move to No. 2. Rybakina, who represents Kazakhstan, will move into the Top 10 for the first time.
Sabalenka has won all 11 of the matches she's played in 2023. She earned the title at the Adelaide International 1 earlier this month.
--Field Level Media