By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña
All the hard work finally paid off for world no. 5 female lawn tennis player Aryna Sabalenka.
After failing to punch a grand finals ticket since entering the professional tennis scene, the Belarusian superstar made sure to kick off her year with a bang when she broke her streak of semifinal appearances while inking her name in the list of the Grand Slam winners in the female division.
Sabalenka wrapped up her tremendous run in the Australian Open and edged the gutsy Elena Rybakina- 4.6, 6.3, 6.4- last January 28, 2023.
It was Sabalenka’s closest contest in her entire Australian Open campaign after not having dropped a single set during her last five matches.
Sabalenka entered the grand finals with a stunning 10-set winning streak after sweeping Shelby Rogers, Elise Mertens, Belinda Bencic, Donna Vekic, and Magda Linette before squaring off against Rybakina who took down former world no.1 champion Victoria Azarenka during the semifinal round.
Rybakina immediately buckled to work and scored an early service break possession to take the early momentum away from Sabalenka.
Despite her consistent baseline forehand bombs, Sabalenka still found herself in deep trouble after Rybakina countered with a more patient approach in her net game.
Rybakina then put on the finishing touches to take a much-needed 1-0 start and headed into the next two sets with oozing confidence.
However, Sabalenka smelled blood at the beginning of the second set and took care of all of her service possessions while giving Rybakina the business in their long rally duels.
The young challenger out of Kazakhstan then seemed to lose gas midway through the second set which allowed Sabalenka to stick back to her original game plan and threw a series of powerful groundstrokes that helped her pile up the points entering the third period.
Rybakina showed signs of life in the last set after going back to her net game and closed the gap but Sabalenka went on the offensive in the last 20 minutes of the match to break the 2-2 deadlock.
Sabalenka sent in the early exclamation point when she grabbed the 5-4 lead off a booming down-the-line forehand.
“I need a few more days to realize what happened. It’s a relief, it’s a joy, I’m just proud of myself, of everyone,” said Sabalenka in an interview with Eurosport.