Australian Open: Aryna Sabalenka Beats Zheng To Win Second Singles Crown In Melbourne
Australian Open: Aryna Sabalenka Beats Zheng To Win Second Singles Crown In MelbourneIANS

Second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka successfully defended her Australian Open women's singles title, overpowering China's Zheng Qinwen in the final on Saturday to claim her second title in Melbourne Park.

The 25-year-old Sabalenka defeated the Chinese first-time finalists Zheng Qinwen 6-3, 6-2 in a 76-minute encounter to get her name etched onto the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup for the second time in her career.

Sabalenka raised her fists and blew a kiss to the sky after sealing victory in cool conditions at Rod Laver Arena on Saturday night.

With this victory, Sabalenka became the first player to defend their first major title since Victoria Azarenka defeated Li Na in the 2013 Australian Open final. The 25-year-old is also the first player to successfully defend an Australian Open crown since Azarenka that year.

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Like Azarenka, Sabalenka also has career-best Slam performances of a semifinal at Roland Garros, a semifinal at Wimbledon and a final at the US Open. Both players have also reached World No.1.

The world No.2 won 84 per cent of first serve points and saved each of the four break points she faced en route to claiming her second singles Grand Slam title with the most dominant performance in an Australian Open women's singles final since Azarenka dropped just three games against Maria Sharapova in 2012.

The Belarussian appearing as a neutral player, did not drop a set all fortnight, and has won 28 of her past 29 sets at Melbourne Park including her 2023 title run. The only player to win a set from her in this spell was Elena Rybakina in last year's final. In the final, she repeated her 6-1, 6-4 win over Zheng in last year's US Open quarterfinals, the pair's only previous meeting.

The result marks the 14th tour-level title of Sabalenka's career, ninth on outdoor hard courts and first since last May when she defended her Madrid trophy. She improves to 2-1 in major finals and becomes the 10th active multiple Grand Slam champion alongside Iga Swiatek, Naomi Osaka, Garbiñe Muguruza, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Azarenka, Angelique Kerber, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Venus Williams.

Zheng, the second Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final and first since Li's title run here in 2014, will make her Top 10 debut on Monday at No.7. Sabalenka will remain at No.2.

"Thank you, Evonne, for being such an inspiration for all of us and receiving this beautiful trophy from you is a pleasure for me," said Sabalenka, who was presented with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup by Evonne Goolagong Cawley, on the 50th anniversary of the Australian legend's first Australian Open triumph.

With this win, Sabalenka earned bragging rights as the fifth player since the turn of the century to win an Australian Open women's singles final without dropping a set, after Ash Barty in 2022, Serena Williams in 2017, Sharapova in 2008 and Lindsay Davenport in 2000. It's the 14th title of her career, and the 12th on a hard court.

The 25-year-old was held to love in the opening game and immediately broke Zheng, who is the first Chinese player to compete in a major singles final since her countrywoman Li Na won the Australian Open 2014 title.

Contesting just the ninth major main draw of her career, Zheng showed no nerves. She responded quickly by creating a trio of breakpoints, though her relentlessly powerful foe saved all three by executing the aggressive, attacking game that elevated her to world No.1 last September.

From there, Sabalenka – dictating points with her heavy groundstrokes – dropped a sole point on serve, and quickly raced to a 5-2 lead.

(With inputs from IANS)