Aryna Sabalenka clinches back-to-back Australian Open titles with a victory over Zheng Qinwen – PPT News

MELBOURNE, Australia — In the back of her mind Aryna Sabalenka didn’t want to be, in her words, that player who wins a major title and disappears.

Winning her first Grand Slam crown in Australia a year ago gave Sabalenka the confidence she could do it again. Losing the U.S. Open final last September gave her the extra motivation.

Sabalenka ensured she wasn’t a one-hit wonder by clinching back-to-back Australian Open titles with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Zheng Qinwen on Saturday in a one-sided women’s final that contrasted sharply with her comeback three-set victory here over Elena Rybakina last year.

“I just wanted to show that I’m able to be consistently there and I’m able to win another one,” she said. “So compared to last year, it’s a completely different me. Compared to the U.S. Open, once again, it’s a different me; I’m more controlled and kind of like don’t let the rest of the things come to my mind.”

In 2022, Sabalenka struggled so badly with her serve in tense moments that she doubted she could win a major. Now she’s relying on it to break down opponents. She didn’t serve a double-fault in the final, and she didn’t face a break point.

No. 2-seeded Sabalenka set the tone with big, deep forehands and converted service breaks early in each set against the 21-year-old Zheng, who was making her debut in a Grand Slam final.

The journey and the destination were equally important for Sabalenka.

In the semifinals, she avenged her U.S. Open final loss to No. 4-ranked Coco Gauff with a straight-set win. That followed straight-sets wins over 2021 French Open winner Barbora Krejcikova in the quarterfinals and Amanda Anisimova in the fourth round.

“I’m definitely a different person and a player and I have more experience playing the last stages of the Grand Slams,” Sabalenka said, reflecting on the last 13 months. “There was some tough moments for me losing the U.S. Open final — that loss actually motivated me so much to work even harder.”

And that, she said, gave her more confidence in her game and more self-belief.

“The first one is always special because I feel like it’s more emotional,” she said. “For the second time, it’s just such a relief.”

Only two things slowed down Sabalenka’s progress Saturday to her second Grand Slam singles title.

In the third game of the second set, with Zheng serving, the match was interrupted after an activist started yelling out. The match continued after the man was escorted out by security.

Then, when she was serving for the match, Sabalenka had three championship points at 40-0 but missed two with unforced forehands errors and another with Zheng’s clever drop shot.

After giving Zheng a breakpoint chance, she bounced the ball away behind her in disgust. But she recovered her composure to win the next three points.

Sabalenka is the first woman since Victoria Azarenka in 2012 and ’13 to win back-to-back Australian Open titles, and the fifth since 2000 to win the championship here without dropping a set — a group that includes Serena Williams.

She credited her support team for keeping her on track, and making sure she enjoyed the moment. Sabalenka made a habit of slapping and autographing the bald head of her fitness trainer, Jason Stacy, before each match in Australia.

After the final, Stacy, wearing a shirt with the message “Simplicity is the key to brilliance” printed on the back, held the trophy on the court as Sabalenka huddled with her team in a victory celebration.

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