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Rybakina finds positives from defeat in "very powerful" decider

  • Dan Imhoff

A beaten finalist in one of the most fearsome displays of power hitting seen in an Australian Open final, Elena Rybakina's resolve is unwavering as she targets further Grand Slam glory.

Some days, the vanquished competitor feels compelled to tip their hat.

Saturday night on Rod Laver Arena was one such occasion.

Rybakina played her part in the hailstorm of winners that flowed in the final (Getty Images)

Gracious in her defeat to maiden major champion Aryna Sabalenka, the 23-year-old Rybakina accepted she was a part of something special – two hours and 28 minutes of the most convincing shot-making, both women with white-line fever, neither willing to budge an inch.

Her second outing in a Grand Slam final did not pan out quite as well as her first, but the 2022 Wimbledon champion expected she would only grow from the experience.

"If it's going to be like this, it's great. For sure, that's the goal, to be in the second week of all the Grand Slams, to play finals," Rybakina said.

"Yeah, I mean, now I have more confidence of course even after this final. I just need to work hard, same as I did during pre-season and actually throughout the years, be healthy, and for sure the results are going to come."

The Kazakh admitted to goosebumps as the noise level from the crowd reached fever-pitch during the encounter.

She was not the only one who experienced goosebumps.

Her efforts to save four match points only had the stadium swirling with heightened excitement, eager to prolong the evenly-matched affair.

Rybakina and Sabalenka struck a whopping 82 winners combined in the 4-6 6-3 6-3 result.

"There is maybe (only a) few girls who plays like this," Rybakina said of Sabalenka. "I just know that I have to serve well. It's also pressure in the end.

"As soon as I have opportunity, take it. Today I had some opportunities. Didn't take. The match didn't go my way … I think quality of the match was good.

"It was a very powerful game from both of us. Well, I think it's just … not many powerful players there on tour. Maybe this is kind of pushing the other players to be more aggressive."

Only seven months ago, Rybakina was crowned a Grand Slam champion when she swept the draw at the All England Club.

With no ranking points on offer at Wimbledon last season, she arrived at Melbourne Park as the 22nd seed, a mark which most accepted was not a true reflection of her standing.

Following straight-sets triumphs over Iga Swiatek, Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka, Rybakina became the first woman to beat three former Grand Slam champions in an Australian Open since Jennifer Capriati in 2001.

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On Monday, she heads home as a top-10 debutante.

A longer time coming than expected, perhaps, but it carried little weight with the unaffected Rybakina.

"I don't think tomorrow I'm going to feel different just because of the ranking now," she said. "But, I mean, for sure it's going to be different on the smaller tournaments, I would say.

"I'm going to be seeded. Maybe in some tournaments I'm not going to play first round.

"So of course there is some benefits out of this, but I don't really look for the ranking numbers so much."