Sun. Feb 25th, 2024

Aryna Sabalenka clinched back-to-back Australian Open titles with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Zheng Qinwen on Saturday in a one-sided women’s final.

The No. 2-seeded Sabalenka broke Zheng’s serve in the second game and took the first set in 33 minutes.

She broke again to start the second set and maintained her dominance throughout against the No. 12-seeded Zheng.

“It’s been an amazing couple of weeks. It’s an unbelievable feeling right now,” Sabalenka said in the trophy presentation. “As usual, my speech is going to be weird — it’s not my super power.”

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

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

Then, when she was 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 clever drop shot.

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

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

The 25-year-old Sabalenka improved to two wins in three Grand Slam finals, all in a span of 13 months. She beat Elena Rybakina a year ago for the title in Australia.

Sabalenka is the first woman since Victoria Azarenka in 2012 and ’13 to win back-to-back Australian Open titles, and the fifth since 2000 to win the championship here without dropping a set — a group that includes Serena Williams.

The 21-year-old Zheng was making her debut in a major final and playing an opponent ranked in the top 50 for the first time in this tournament.

It was the second time in as many majors their paths had met in the second week.

Sabalenka beat Zheng in the U.S. Open quarterfinals last year on her way to the final, where she lost to 19-year-old American Coco Gauff.

Sabalenka avenged that loss to Gauff with a semifinal victory here that extended her winning streak at Melbourne Park to 13 matches. It’s now 14.

In just her ninth major, 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 advance through six rounds without playing anyone ranked in the top 50 — and was only the third in the Open era to reach a major final without facing a seeded player.

The step up against No. 2-ranked Sabalenka proved huge.

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