MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 27: Aryna Sabalenka reacts to defeating Qinwen Zheng of China in the womens singles final on Day 14 of the 2024 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 27, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia (Photo by Robert Prange/Getty Images)
Tennis | Australian Open 2024 | Aryna Sabalenka praises discipline and consistency after successful title defence
Aryna Sabalenka is the Australian Open champion for a second year in a row after the world number two produced a dominant performance over Qinwen Zheng. The world number two walked onto Rod Laver Arena with purpose and authority as she produced thunderous tennis to break for a 2-0 lead in the early stages of the match.
As for Zheng it was a passive start as the 12th seed was playing her first Grand Slam final but the world number 15 would eventually gain confidence as the match went on. A mixture of depth and forehand angles saw Zheng create three break points in the third game with Sabalenka producing erratic errors. The defending champion responded well though as she used her experience to grind out a hold of serve, taking a 3-0 lead.
There were some well-constructed points from Zheng as she was looking to overcome the deficit with a good use of power and variety. The main problem for Zheng though was that, the serve was not consistently testing Sabalenka’s returning abilities which lead to the world number two producing winner after winner on return.
The 12th seed would remain determined as she saved three set points with some clutch serving as Sabalenka produced some over aggressive shots. However Sabalenka managed to recompose herself and overcame a flurry of aggressive returns to hold her nerve, taking the first set 6-3.
There was no time to celebrate for Sabalenka as the world number two continued the momentum into the second set as more aggressive returning put pressure on Zheng. The 12th seed faltered when it really mattered as a double fault handed Sabalenka the early break of serve in the opening game.
The pressure was relentless from Sabalenka as her front-foot tennis continued to expose Zheng’s passive tennis from the baseline. There wasn’t any consistent quality that was troubling Sabalenka as Zheng was barely holding onto her serve and needed world-class shot-making to get her out of trouble.
However Zheng was only delaying the inevitable as Sabalenka used touch rather than power to secure the double break lead in the fifth game. A delicate backhand slice winner at the net sealing a 4-1 lead and control of this final. Now all Sabalenka had to do was comfortably close the match out to seal her second consecutive title.
That sound easier said than done as some passive play mixed with aggressive Zheng returning saw three championship points come and go with the world number two looking visibly annoyed. Ever the perfectionist is Sabalenka, the defending champion would go on the attack as she saved a break point and created a fourth and fifth championship point.
There would be no mistake on championship point number five as Sabalenka crushed a forehand cross-court to seal her second consecutive Australian Open title.
A highly impressive title defence for Sabalenka who wins her second consecutive Australian Open title and the world number two did so without dropping a set.
The win means it’s her second Grand Slam title and shows she was able to back up her title win from last year.
Speaking after the match Sabalenka admitted being worried about only winning one Grand Slam and credited her discipline and consistency for winning this year’s title.
“Actually it’s been in my mind that I didn’t want to be that player who won it and then disappeared,” Sabalenka told the Australian Open website.
“I just wanted to show that I’m able to be consistently there and I’m able to win another one. I really hope more, more than two, but for me it was really important.
“That’s why, no matter what the result, win or lose, we are always working hard, we were always looking for things to improve in my game. It’s all about the process and make sure that, about the discipline, make sure that you’re always there, you always show up, and you always work hard.”
The hard work is paying off as Sabalenka is the first player since Victoria Azarenka to successfully defend the women’s singles title in Melbourne.
One key element to Sabalenka’s success is her serve and the world number two spoke in detail between why her serve is working so much better now.
“Definitely that year when I was struggling a lot helped me a lot to understand that, even if my serve is not working, I’m able to fight for it, and I have good return,” Sabalenka reflected on the past to the Australian Open website.
“Right now when I’m serving a little bit better than that year, definitely I feel more controlled on my serve. Even if I’m down in the score in my serve or even if someone breaks me, I am not getting crazy like I used to, and I have this belief that no matter what happen, I’m able to fight for it. I have a lot of weapons, not only my serve.”
Sabalenka’s serve is a big reason why her development has been so successful as she looks to achieve bigger things in 2024.
However it’s not only Sabalenka’s development on the court that has lead to more consistency as the two-time Grand Slam champion alluded to.
“It’s actually good that I’m two different people on and off the court, because if I would be the same person that I’m on the court off the court, I think I wouldn’t have my team around me, and I think I would be alone,” Sabalenka jokingly told the Australian Open website.
“But it takes me so much time to kind of like become who I am right now on court, to have this control (of) myself, and to understand myself better. It’s been a long journey and way to go.”
Zheng looking to learn lessons ahead of top ten debut
It was disappointment for Zheng who couldn’t sustain the level that she managed to perform at throughout the fortnight.
However a first Grand Slam final for Zheng who will look to use this as a platform for bigger things this season.
Speaking after the defeat, Zheng said she is looking forward to exploring the reasons for her defeat in the final.
“Yeah, actually it is difficult, you know. Also, maybe I have to work more on my tennis, also work more on my mental side, work more on myself to be able to (get) through this moment,” Zheng told the Australian Open website.
“Because if you lose, there must be reason behind why you lose, and we have to try to figure out why and then come back stronger and better next time.”
Despite the defeat, Zheng can reflect on an incredible fortnight which has seen her become the first Chinese player since Li Na to make into a Grand Slam final.
Now Zheng will look to continue the legacy as she makes her top ten debut on Monday and the Chinese player is hoping an improvement in ranking will mean that she will learn more lessons on the tour.
“I would say there is lot of difficult matches for me on the way, and I’m able to hold that difficult moment and trying to win the match even [though] I wasn’t playing my best tennis, I wasn’t feeling that good there,” Zheng explained to the Australian Open website.
“Actually, I think I can learn more with the loss today, and then I just hope next time I can come back as a better tennis player and come back stronger.”
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