Belarusian tennis star Aryna Sabalenka made history at the Australian Open, becoming the first neutral player to win a Grand Slam after she defeated Elena Rybakina in a thrilling final.
In front of a packed crowd of 15,000 fans at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena, Sabalenka and Rybakina engaged in a fierce battle for the first Grand Slam title of the year. Rybakina started strong, taking the opening set 6-4, but Sabalenka quickly settled down and evened things up by winning the second set 6-3.
The match then came down to a one-set shootout for the trophy, and the momentum stayed with Sabalenka. She secured the crucial break and soon found herself serving for the match.
Despite failing to convert on three championship points, Sabalenka finally got over the line at the fourth time of asking, securing her first Grand Slam title.
Sabalenka’s victory is all the more remarkable given the circumstances surrounding her participation in the tournament. As a result of Belarus’s support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Sabalenka was not allowed to officially represent her country at the Australian Open.
However, she was able to compete as a neutral player, and her historic victory will go down in the annals of the tournament’s history.
In addition to the trophy, Sabalenka also takes home a substantial prize of around two million dollars, as the Australian Open is one of the few Grand Slams that offers equal prize money to men and women.
Sabalenka’s 11th straight win of the year sees her return to a career-high world number two ranking. The Belarusian star thanked the crowd for their support and promised to return next year even stronger.