AWhen Arina Sabalenka stood on Rod Laver Arena and stretched her arms into the dark Melbourne sky, it was hard to tell she had won a Grand Slam final. The match against China's Qinwen Zheng was very one-sided; Her body or face was rarely challenged by her opponent to show signs of fatigue.
But luckily it was something else that made her the winner a little later: the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, a large silver trophy handed to Sabalenka. Like last year, the tennis player won the Australian Open. “It's an unbelievable feeling right now, I'm speechless,” Sabalenka said. “Thank you so much to my team and my family. You are a great inspiration to me. “
“I'm a little sad”
The Belarusian has stressed several times over the past two weeks that he feels more comfortable here than in other matches. You could tell that in every game she played, especially in the finals, at Rod Laver Arena. Loudly supported by many Chinese fans, Zeng fought back as best he could and scored some good points after some impressive rallies.
However, she had no chance against the power tennis of Sabalenka, one of the hardest court players on tour, winning 6:3, 6:2 in 1:16 hours. “I'm a little sad now, but you played amazing tennis,” Zheng said after the match.
With his second win at the Australian Open, Sabalenka capped a remarkable tournament for himself: he didn't drop a set until the end. The only time Sabalenka came close at the 2023 US Open was in the semifinals against American Coco Goff. Sabalenka was on the court for only 6:55 hours, his opponent was almost twice as long with 11:34 hours.
The 21-year-old Zheng reached his first Grand Slam final. “Don't think so much,” her compatriot Li Na told her when she surprised Zeng during an interview in Melbourne. Li Na is the only Chinese woman to win a Grand Slam and Zheng's biggest idol.
It didn't really help in a fight between the tournament's two strongest servers. Zeng hit the most aces during the two-week period and, like Sabalenka, was one of the top four players with the most points on first serves. The two had only clashed once before. The showdown in New York at the US Open went in Sabalenka's favor.
As usual, he started strongly, securing the first five points and then his opponent's first service game. He survived the first and only crucial moment on his own serve when he had three break points against him at 2-0.
Zheng then settled somewhat on her own serve and began to become more aggressive, eventually hitting more winners (11:4) and aces (6:1) in the first set. But Sabalenka scored more points and started the second round much like the first: more focused. A few minutes later, Zeng had already served his first serve game again. Sabalenka primarily attacked her opponent's second serve, dictating rallies and allowing Zeng to rush across the court.
She just had to fight in the end. Seventh-ranked Zheng, who will enter the top ten in the world rankings for the first time next week, broke four match points. It only worked for Sabalenka in the fifth place, and then there was a message for the losing team: “You will be in many more finals,” said the Belarusian: “And at some point win this title.”