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Belarus tennis player wins 2023 Australian open after country’s flag ban

By News Desk

Inspite of the Australian Open tennis organiser’s ban on display of Russian and Belarusian flags during the tournament, the female trophy of the competition has been lifted by Belarusian fifth seed, Aryna Sabalenka, after beating her Kazakhstani opponent, Elena Rybakina, at the final.

Sabalenka, who won her first Grand Slam singles title, was admitted into the tournament on a neutral flag because of Belarus’ support of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The 24-year-old tennis player triumphed during the final played on Saturday after losing the first set to her opponent, Rybakina, with many pundits, who watched the first set  already predicted that she would lose the second set but ended 4-6 6-3 6-4.

Sabalenka’s victory against the Kazakhstani mark her 51st win as her high-risk game paid off during the absorbing contest which showcased the power of both players in Melbourne.

Kazakhstan’s Rybakina was unable to add a second slam to her Wimbledon title, instead it was Sabalenka who put her name on the exclusive list of people to win a major title as she fulfilled her long-seen potential.

Sabalenka could not convert her first three championship points – producing an edgy double fault, pulling a forehand wide and knocking a backhand long – but also held her nerve in between by saving a break point with a hefty unreturned first serve.

At the fourth opportunity, she finally got over the line when 22nd seed Rybakina hit a forehand long. Sabalenka, full of elation and emotion, instantly fell to the court and covered her face as she cried in celebration.

After returning to her feet and hugging Rybakina, she walked over to her team for a celebration which also left her coach Anton Dubrov sobbing.

In her victory speech, Sabalenka thanked her team for “working so hard” after going through “so many downs last year”
Sabalenka shows strength of character.

A contest between two of the biggest hitters on the WTA Tour – billed as ‘power struggle of epic stature’ by one Melbourne newspaper – was always expected to provide explosive tennis.

And the pair produced exactly that in a high-quality final which did not disappoint. Sabalenka has described how she could not face watching last year’s Wimbledon after being prevented from playing as a result of the ban imposed on Russian and Belarusian players.

To take her mind off the tournament, she spent more time in the gym but the key to her success in Melbourne has been down to the mind as much as the body.

Sabalenka had won all six of the Grand Slam matches last year where she lost the first set and again showed the strength of character – this time in the most pressurised of situations – to recover on Rod Laver Arena.

Fighting back was not something Sabalenka had been forced to worry about since arriving in Australia. She had started the new season with a 10-match winning streak – leading her to the Adelaide title and then the Melbourne final – with all of those victories coming in straight sets.

Remodelling her serve in a bid to avoid the double faults which plagued her last year has proved key – as has her work with a psychologist.

This week she said she is now her “own psychologist” after stopping seeing the expert and showed her renewed self-belief as she overcame a wobble to finally clinch victory.

“I need a few days to realise what happened. I’m speechless,” Sabalenka, who had previously lost in three major semi-finals, told Australian broadcaster Channel Nine.

“It was super emotional at the end and I was super happy I was able to handle all the emotions in the last game. It was super tough.”

Rybakina shows she can back up success
Elena Rybakina hugs Aryna Sabalenka after their Australian Open final
Rybakina beat three Grand Slam champions – Iga Swiatek, Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka – on her way to the Melbourne final
Rybakina has been one of the most unheralded Wimbledon champions in recent history as a result of her low profile and a ranking that is artificially low because points were not awarded at the All England Club last year.

At Melbourne Park, the tall Kazakh – who was born in Moscow and represented Russia until she was 19 – has been reminding people once again of her outstanding talent.

Strong serving has been the bedrock of her success – leading the ace count in the women’s singles and having won 84% of her service games going into the final – and she dropped just six service points in the opening set.

However, Rybakina lost her serve once in each of the final two sets as the Belarusian – who continued with her front-foot approach – found her range.

That was enough for Sabalenka to turn the match around and prevent Rybakina holding half of the sport’s biggest prizes.

“It was a good year for me and hopefully next year I am going to have the same result and do even better,” she said.

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