MELBOURNE, Australia – Deep down, Aryna Sabalenka did not 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 confidence that she could do it again. Losing in the final in New York last September gave him additional motivation.
Sabalenka made sure not to be associated with a single big victory, retaining her Australian Open title with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Zheng Qinwen in Saturday’s final.
A stark contrast to her three-set victory against Elena Rybakina in last year’s final at this tournament.
“I just wanted to show that I’m capable of being there consistently and that I’m capable of winning another (major tournament),” Sabalenka said.
“Compared to last year, I am completely different. Compared to New York, again, I’m different; I have more control, I don’t let all kinds of things come to mind. »
In 2022, Sabalenka struggled so much with her serve in tense moments that she doubted she could win a major.
Now he relies on this weapon to defeat his opponents. In the final he did not commit a double fault and did not give up a break point.
Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed, set the tone with big deep forehands and breaks at the start of 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 to Sabalenka, a 25-year-old Belarusian.
In the semi-final, she avenged her US Open final loss against Coco Gauff by winning in straight sets. This followed straight-set victories over 2021 French Open winner Barbora Krejcikova in the quarterfinals and also against Amanda Anisimova in the fourth round.
“I’m definitely a different person and player and I have more experience in the later rounds of Grand Slams,” Sabalenka said, reflecting on the past 13 months.
“There were difficult moments for me when I lost the final at Flushing Meadows. In fact, it really motivated me to work even harder. »
Sabalenka is the first woman since Victoria Azarenka in 2012 and 2013 to win back-to-back titles in Melbourne, and the fifth since 2000 to win the championship here without losing a set, a group that includes Serena Williams.
A decade after Li Na lifted the Australian Open trophy, Zheng had his best run in nine majors to date.
During the tournament she said she felt well supported in Melbourne thanks to the large Chinese community.
She was the first player in four decades to go six rounds without facing someone ranked in the top 50, and was only the third in modern times to reach a Grand Slam final without facing a seed.
“I didn’t do my best (Saturday). It’s disappointing for me. I really wanted to offer better opposition,” Zheng said.
“I think I can learn from this defeat. I hope next time I can be a stronger player. »