Aryna Sabalenka beats Zheng Qinwen to win back-to-back Australian Open titles

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Winning her first Grand Slam title in Australia a year ago gave Aryna Sabalenka the confidence she could do it again. Losing the US Open final last September gave him extra motivation.

No. 2 Sabalenka won back-to-back Australian Open titles with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Zheng Qinwen on Saturday in a one-sided women’s final that stood in stark contrast to her three-set victory here against Elena. Rybakina last year.

Sabalenka set the tone by breaking Zheng’s serve at the start of each set in a 76-minute victory over Zheng, 21, who was making his debut in a Grand Slam final.

The journey and the destination were equally important to Sabalenka.

In the semifinals, she avenged her US Open final loss to 4th-ranked Coco Gauff with a straight-sets victory over the reigning major champion.

This followed straight-sets victories over 2021 French Open winner Barbora Krejcikova in the quarterfinals and Amanda Anisimova in the fourth round. She didn’t lose a set in the entire tournament, and only one – a tiebreaker against Gauff – went beyond 10 games.

“I am definitely a different person and player and I have more experience playing the latter stages of the Grand Slam,” Sabalenka said, reflecting on the past 13 months. “There were some tough times for me losing the US Open final – that loss actually motivated me so much to work even harder.”

And that, she says, gave her more confidence in her game and more confidence in herself.

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

“I’ve been under a bit of pressure these two weeks and I’m super happy that I was able to handle that pressure and compete at such a high level.”

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

We see a tennis player looking for a ball in the middle of a match.
Aryna Sabalenka is the first woman since Victoria Azarenka in 2012 and 2013 to win back-to-back Australian Open titles and the fifth since 2000 to win the tournament without dropping a set. (Andy Wong/Associated Press)

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

Then, while serving for the match, Sabalenka had three championship points at 40-0 but missed two with wide or long forehands and another with Zheng’s trick shot.

After giving Zheng a break chance, she bounced the ball behind her in disgust, but regained her composure to win the next three points.

In the end, he needed five championship points before finishing with a forehand crosscourt winner. It was the kind of shot that had Zheng on the back foot almost from the start.

Sabalenka is the first woman since Victoria Azarenka in 2012 and 2013 to win back-to-back Australian Open titles, 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 won the Australian Open title, Zheng enjoyed her best run in nine majors to date. She said during the tournament that she felt well supported in Melbourne thanks to the large Chinese community. And it played out in the final, where the flags flew and she had the crowd behind her.

But for the first time in this tournament she faced an opponent ranked in the top 50.

It was the second time in as many major tournaments that their paths had met in the second week. Sabalenka beat Zheng in the US Open quarterfinals last year on her way to the final.

Zheng’s push to the final was two rounds better than her previous best run to the quarterfinals in New York last September.

She was the first player in four decades to go through six rounds without facing someone ranked in the top 50 – and was only the third in the Open era to reach a major final without facing a top seed.

The advance against Sabalenka, ranked No. 2, proved to be enormous.



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