Australian Open: Champion Aryna Sabalenka Turns 2022 Nightmare Into 2023 Dream

Australia was not a happy hunting ground for Aryna Sabalenka 12 months ago.

The start of 2022 saw her exit the pre-major Adelaide International event at the hands of a qualifier, her serve so poor she was left in tears and rolling them in underarm as her double fault tally hit 21.

The Australian Open didn't fare much better, the then-second seed sent packing in the fourth round at the start of a year that saw her serve 428 double faults - 151 more than any other player on the WTA Tour.

But 2023 marks a fresh start. And Belarusian Sabalenka is starting it as a Grand Slam champion.

Yes, the double faults are still there, starting the Australian Open final against Elena Rybakina with one on her very first serve, later squandering her first championship point with another. But they are fewer and further between, her hard yards in the off-season coming good at the right time.

"Well, it was a good start for me," Sabalenka, 24, joked after her maiden singles major win. "I was like, well, it's going to be fun after the double fault."

Fun it was, at least for the viewer, as an enthralling final got under way.

After that double fault, it didn't get much better for Sabalenka as Wimbledon champion Rybakina took the early initiative, Sabalenka conceding a set for the first time this season.

But she had not lost her previous six Slam matches after dropping the first set and that was a stat she wasn't prepared to give up on. And so the fightback began.

In the battle of the big hitters, Sabalenka forced a decider on Rod Laver Arena, getting the all-important break before - with the nerves in full flow - finally clinching the biggest win of her career on her fourth championship point.

"I think it's even more enjoyable after all those tough matches," she said. "I really feel I needed those tough losses to understand myself a little bit better. It was like preparation for me.

"I actually feel happy that I lost those matches, so right now I can be a different player and just [a] different Aryna, you know?"

A different, considerably calmer, Aryna indeed, courtesy of work with a psychologist and biomechanics expert to correct her wayward serving.

Tonight, she will celebrate with the team who got her to this point. It is not the best day of her life - that is reserved for the day she met her boyfriend - but the celebrations will be as if it were.

Pizza, sweets and a "little bit of champagne" are on order, the latter already started on as she sipped a glass during her press conference.

"I will eat everything that I couldn't all this week," she said. "My mum and my grandma are fighting right now for this trophy. I will put it back home where I keep all these trophies."



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