Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka celebrates with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup after defeating Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina in the women's singles final match on day thirteen of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on Jan 28, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)
MELBOURNE - Fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus fought back from a set down to defeat reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina to win the Australian Open women's singles title on Saturday.
In a nerve-jangling final, Sabalenka overcame the gallant 22nd seed 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to record her first Grand Slam triumph.
It capped a spectacular tournament for 24-year-old Sabalenka, who hadn't dropped a set before the final, and now will move to No 2 on the world rankings.
23-year-old Rybakina of Kazakhstan was unable to add a Grand Slam title to last year's Wimbledon crown, but she still moves inside the world rankings' top 10 for the first time in her career.
An emotional Sabalenka collapsed on court after clinching the two-hour, 28-minute epic match before running over and celebrating with her team.
Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus plays a backhand return to Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan in the women's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Jan 28, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)
It was a disappointment for 23-year-old Rybakina, but she proved her shock Wimbledon triumph was no fluke after a stellar run in Melbourne yielded impressive victories over top seed Iga Swiatek in the fourth round and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals
"It's tough to explain what I'm feeling right now," said Sabalenka, who had 51 winners and 17 aces.
"Oh, I just super happy. Super happy. Proud. I don't know how to explain. Just the best -- it's the best day of my life right now."
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Sabalenka prevailed in a match between two heavy hitters but not before a major fright. The volatile Belarusian looked to be melting under the bright lights in her first Grand Slam final.
She struggled against Rybakina, who looked unperturbed and won five straight points to capture an early break in the opening set.
But Sabalenka hit back against the strong-serving Rybakina with a break in the eighth game, only to immediately lose her serve, and was broken through a double fault to further sour her mood.
Rybakina held her nerve to draw first blood and became the first player to win a set against Sabalenka this year.
Sabalenka appeared in major trouble as she struggled to hold serve in the opening game of the second set, but she fended off Rybakina's best efforts.
It seemed to compose Sabalenka, who rediscovered her blistering groundstrokes to claw back into the contest.
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She gained a break and nearly had a stranglehold of the set with a slew of break points in a marathon sixth game, which Rybakina survived to hang on.
But the writing was on the wall and Sabalenka soon leveled up to set the stage for a thrilling deciding set.
Both players raised their game in a titanic third set before Sabalenka made her move with a decisive break in the seventh game before calmly serving it out to clinch her first Grand Slam title.
Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan plays a forehand return to Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus in the women's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Jan 28, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)
"I would say that not many girls can put me really under pressure. Against her, it's not easy because she has a great serve and she plays really aggressive. Her ball is coming very heavy," Rybakina told reporters.
It was a disappointment for 23-year-old Rybakina, but she proved her shock Wimbledon triumph was no fluke after a stellar run in Melbourne yielded impressive victories over top seed Iga Swiatek in the fourth round and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals.
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Sunday will be the final day of competition and is headlined by the men's final between nine-time champion Novak Djokovic and third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The women's doubles final will be contested between the Czech pair of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, and Japan's Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara.
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