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Rod Laver Aryna: Sabalenka does the double

  • Gill Tan

Aryna Sabalenka’s name has been etched onto the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup once again, after the second seed claimed the Australian Open 2024 women’s singles title by overpowering Zheng Qinwen.

MORE: All the match stats from the AO 2024 women's singles final

The 25-year-old, who has carried herself with a steely resolve this fortnight, raised her fists and blew a kiss to the sky after sealing a 6-3 6-2 victory in cool conditions at Rod Laver Arena on Saturday night. 

She’s the first back-to-back AO champion since Victoria Azarenka won in 2012 and 2013 and the second player in the Open era to win her first two majors in Melbourne.

The world No.2 won 84 per cent of first serve points and saved each of the four break points she faced en route to claiming her second singles Grand Slam title with the most dominant performance in an AO women’s singles final since Azarenka dropped just three games against Maria Sharapova in 2012.

“Thank you Evonne for being such an inspiration for all of us and receiving this beautiful trophy from you is a pleasure for me,” said Sabalenka, who was presented with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup by Evonne Goolagong Cawley, on the 50th anniversary of the Australian legend’s first AO triumph.

The second seed, who was defeated in the US Open final last September, congratulated Zheng – who will crack the top 10 on Monday – on her run in Australia and assured the 21-year-old that she’ll eventually clinch a major of her own.

“I know this feeling, it’s really tough to lose in the final, but you’re such an incredible player, you’re such a young girl and you’re going to be in many more finals and you’re going to get it,” Sabalenka said.



“Thank you so much for being by my side no matter what, without you I wouldn’t be able to achieve so much in this sport,” she told her team, who responded by holding their hands up in the shape of hearts. “I put a little bit of pressure on them after [the] Brisbane final, and we did a little bit better in this one,” she beamed, referencing her 6-0 6-3 defeat earlier this month by Elena Rybakina.

“It’s been an amazing couple of weeks and I couldn’t imagine myself lifting this trophy one more time,” she added. She also praised her family and their sacrifices over the years. “I love you so much and you’re my biggest motivation, and everything I’m doing, I’m doing for you,” she said.

Sabalenka also paid tribute to the Rod Laver Arena crowd, acknowledging that their support over the fortnight makes the AO “special”. 

“I love you so much and I can’t wait to come back,” she said.

Victory hands Sabalenka bragging rights as the fifth player since the turn of the century to win an AO women’s singles final without dropping a set, after Ash Barty in 2022, Serena Williams in 2017, Sharapova in 2008 and Lindsay Davenport in 2000. It’s the 14th title of her career, and a 12th on a hard court.

Sabalenka held to love in the opening game and immediately broke Zheng, who is the first Chinese player to compete in a major singles final since her countrywoman Li Na won the AO 2014 title.

Contesting just the ninth major main draw of her career, Zheng showed no nerves. She responded quickly by creating a trio of break points, though her relentlessly powerful foe saved all three by executing the aggressive, attacking game that elevated her to world No.1 last September.

From there, Sabalenka – dictating points with her heavy groundstrokes – dropped a sole point on serve, and quickly raced to a 5-2 lead.

Sabalenka held three set points on Zheng’s serve before her less experienced rival fought her way out of trouble with a pair of aces and a forehand winner of her own.

MORE: Zheng's learnings from loss

Zheng saved a fourth set point on Sabalenka’s serve by ripping a forehand down the line, before her opponent slammed an unreturnable serve out wide to close out the set.

She began the second set in suboptimal style, serving three double faults to hand Sabalenka an early break.

Zheng found success on a drop-shot winner and asked questions of the defending champion during a slew of rallies and at the net, but though Sabalenka faltered on an approach volley, she never looked rattled, and crushed every overhead that came her way.

A poorly-timed double fault by Zheng in the fifth game handed Sabalenka break point and, after a 112 kph second serve, Sabalenka stormed to a commanding 4-1 lead by closing out the 16-stroke rally with a crisp backhand winner.

Zheng saved four championship points at 2-5 and created her first break point opportunity of the second set, which the defending champion saw off with an ace. Seconds later, a clinical cross-court forehand winner clinched Sabalenka the AO 2024 crown.

Sabalenka’s consistency and success are partly attributable to the fact she feels that she has control of any given situation, coach Anton Dubrov and fitness trainer Jason Stacy said after their charge’s win.

Biomechanics specialist Gavin MacMillan helped fine-tune technical aspects of Sabalenka's game and was able to provide her with much-needed clarity, they said. “If she did happen to miss a shot, she knew exactly why and what to do about it, it gives her that sense of control,” Stacy explained. 

As a result, instead of being unnerved when a few points don’t go her way, the world No.2 is able to return to her routine and reclaim her rhythm, Dubrov added.