Aryna Sabalenka's very dominant display at this year's Australian Open landed the Belarusian a very notable feat as the 25-year-old is the fifth player in the 21st century to win the opening Grand Slam of the season without a dropped set.
After becoming a Grand Slam champion at the Australian Open in 2023, Sabalenka returned to Melbourne Park this January and successfully defended her title. On Sunday, second-seeded Sabalenka gave no chance to Zheng Qinwen, beating the 12th-seeded Chinese 6-3 6-2.
En route to defending her Australian Open title, Sabalenka also got the job done in two sets against Ella Seidel, Brenda Fruhvirtova, Lesia Tsurenko, Amanda Anisimova, Barbora Krejcikova, and Coco Gauff. The closest to taking a set off Sabalenka was Gauff, who pushed the Belarusian into a tie-break in the first set of their semifinal match.
Before Sabalenka, four players managed to win the Australian Open without a dropped set in the 21st century - Lindsay Davenport (2000), Maria Sharapova (2008), Serena Williams (2017), and Ashleigh Barty (2022).
5 - Aryna Sabalenka is the 5th player this Century to secure the Women’s Singles title at the Australian Open without a single set dropped en route after Davenport in 2000, Sharapova in 2008, S. Williams in 2017 and Barty in 2022. Domination.#AusOpen | @WTA @WTA_insider pic.twitter.com/ltADtnsyH2— OptaAce (@OptaAce) January 27, 2024
Ex-Wimbledon champion Pat Cash compares Sabalenka to Williams
After back-to-back impressive wins over 2021 French Open champion Krejcikova and 2023 US Open champion Gauff, Sabalenka also delivered a big performance in the Australian Open final against Zheng.
Right from the start of the match, Sabalenka looked determined to make a statement as the Belarusian came out playing aggressive and wanting to control points and the rhythm of the match. After breaking Zheng in the second game for an early lead, Sabalenka held on to her serve for the remainder of the set to collect the opening set.
Up by a set, Sabalenka also made a great start to the second set, breaking Zheng in the first game. In the fifth game, Sabalenka broke Zheng again to go up by a set and a double-break. Serving for the title in the eighth game, Sabalenka missed out on her first four championship points but converted her fifth to complete a two-set win over Zheng with just five games dropped.
Cash, the 1987 Wimbledon champion, was impressed with how Sabalenka looked on the court.
“She is unstoppable when she goes like that, a bit like Serena," Cash said on the BBC5 Live Sport coverage.
“That is as present as it gets. Sabalenka came out aggressive. She knew she had the pace to upset Zheng, for a first time in a Grand Slam final.
“Zheng hadn’t seen anything like this considering she hadn’t played a top 50 player all the way through. Sabalenka was absolutely flawless.
“We know how good she is, but that was an exceptional tournament. She’s played some tough players and dealt with them easily.”
Sabalenka on her performance against Zheng
On Sunday, Sabalenka was competing in her third Grand Slam final while 21-year-old Zheng was making her first appearance in a Slam final. Going into the match, the pressure was on Sabalenka to deliver since the experience was on the Belarusian's side and she was also regarded as the clear favorite in the final. But Sabalenka handled the pressure and expectations in the best way possible and Zheng never really had a shot at beating the 25-year-old Belarusian.
"I'm speechless right now. I don't know how to describe my emotions. But definitely I'm super, super happy and proud of everything I was able to achieve so far," Sabalenka said in the press of her level against Zheng.
"Yeah, just happy with the level I played today. She's a great player and A Very tough opponent. I'm super happy that I was able to get this win today."
After losing in her first three Grand Slam finals, Sabalenka made her first Grand Slam final at the 2023 Australian Open and lifted her first Major title at the same tournament. After making her Grand Slam breakthrough at Melbourne Park last year, Sabalenka admitted that she felt a major relief after accomplishing her goal of becoming a Slam champion.
Following her second Grand Slam win, Sabalenka was asked if she has been playing more freely since her first Slam win. Answering the question, Sabalenka admitted she thought that would be the case but the truth is that she still feels pressure and expectations when competing in a Grand Slam tournament.
"You know what? I actually felt after last year it's going to help me to be more free and don't care about things, and blah, blah, blah. But not really. You still feel the same. You still want it badly and you still working very hard for it, and you still have to show up and fight for it and show your best level," Sabalenka admitted.
"So I feel like, because before I was watching all these champions crying after each slam, I was, like, 'Come on, you've done it, like, 15 times. Why are you still crying?'
"Right now, I didn't even get to that point, but I feel like I understand why they still crying. Because every time, the same pressure, the same expectations. You want it same way. So it's always emotional. Yeah, it's still the same, you know, (smiling)."
In a couple of months, Sabalenka will attempt to win her first French Open title and her third Grand Slam title.