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Australian Open: Aryna Sabalenka wins in Melbourne

Aryna Sabalenka broke her Grand Slam duck on Saturday with a 4-6 6-3 6-4 win over Elena Rybakina in the final of the Australian Open.

The Belarusian had previously reached three major semi-finals, including twice in 2022, but lost on each occasion. 

However, after winning the Adelaide International 1 without dropping a set, she played with real purpose in Melbourne and finally got over the line on the biggest stage.

After winning the opener, Wimbledon champion Rybakina looked on course for her second Grand Slam title but Sabalenka recovered from dropping her first set of the tournament to triumph in three. 

The Kazakh had previously knocked out world number one Iga Swiatek in the fourth round but despite dropping just six service points in the opening set, she could not capitalise as Sabalenka triumphed at the Rod Laver Arena.

WhatAustralian Open 2023
WhereMelbourne Park
WhenMonday 16th January - Sunday 29th January
How to watchEurosport and discovery+ 
Odds (Men’s Final)Stefanos Tsitsipas 19/5, Novak Djokovic 1/5

Sabalenka soars 

There has been a clear difference between Sabalenka since beating Swiatek in the semi-finals of last year's WTA Finals in Texas. 

While she went on to lose that final in Texas to Caroline Garcia, the Belarusian has been calmer on the court and less harsh with her self-criticism. 

That attitude took her all the way in Australia as she recorded straight sets victories over Tereza Martincova, Shelby Rogers, Elise Mertens, Belinda Bencic, Donna Vekic and Magda Linette. 

The fact she recovered from a set down to beat Rybakina shows she has matured mentally while also developing into a more rounded player over the last couple of years, combining her booming serve and baseline play with a dash of subtlety. 

Her high-risk strategy of going for her shots paid off as she hit 51 winners on Saturday before converting a fourth championship point to finally get over the line. 

Sabalenka is 5/1 to defend her crown by winning the 2024 Australian Open Women Outright, with Swiatek leading the market at 3/1 and Rybakina 6/1.

The beaten finalist's run in Melbourne has been typical of her career in that she arrived at the tournament with little form but put a fabulous run together. 

A relatively low seeding of 22nd, 17 below Sabalenka, meant she had to do it the hard way, defeating Elisabetta Cocciaretto, Kaja Juvan, Danielle Collins, Swiatek, Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka and is clearly now among the elite.

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Swiatek's struggles continue 

Swiatek's defeat to Rybakina was another worry for the Pole after she lost to Jessica Pegula at the United Cup, having been downed by Sabaleka at the WTA Finals. 

In fairness, both of those were semi-finals and she is fresh off a 2022 in which she set a record for the longest winning streak of the 21st century with 37 wins in a row. 

At 20, she also became the youngest female player to win the Sunshine Double of Indian Wells and Miami Masters. 

She will now be targeting those tournaments as the North American hard-court season kicks into gear. 

The same can be said of Pegula, who fell in the Melbourne quarter-finals for the third straight year, and the player who beat her in 2023, Victoria Azarenka, having won in Indian Wells and Miami twice in her career. 

Another real story of the tournament surrounded Magda Linette's run to the last four and her goal for the season must be to produce those types of performances, which included beating Garcia and Karolina Pliskova, on a more regular basis.

Paris next for the Grand Slam hopefuls 

Next up regarding the Grand Slams is the French Open which gets underway on Sunday 28th May. 

The sole clay court major on the calendar, the red dirt does not necessarily suit the likes of Sabalenka and Rybakina due to the slower nature of the surface. 

In contrast, Swiatek will fancy her chances of bouncing back having previously been crowned the champion in Paris both last year and in 2020. 

The Pole is 10/11 To Win Outright, with Ons Jabeur 10/1 and Garcia 12/1 to become the first home player to triumph at the French since Mary Pierce in 2000.  

Before that, there will be warm-up events in the likes of Madrid and Rome but for now, the time is for Sabalenka to celebrate a victory that after a tough 2022, which also saw her battle the yips with her serve, appears well deserved.

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