Here’s Tumaini Carayol’s full report from Melbourne Park.
Sabalenka takes her prize, the Daphne Akhurst trophy.
I am super nervous, I want to thank Miss King she has done so much, congratulations, Elena. Hopefully, we will have many more battles, hopefully in the final of grand slams.
Thank you everyone, and thanks guys for an amazing atmosphere. It was an enjoyable tournament to play in. Thanks to my team, they are the craziest team on the tour. We have been through a lot downs last year. You guys deserve this trophy more than me. I hope next year I come back even stronger and I will show you even better tennis.
Rybakina speaks, and seems pretty cheery considering.
I would like to congratulate Aryna. I know how hard you have worked and hopefully we will have many more battles. Thank you for this atmosphere and I had goosebumps and I am looking forward to coming back next year. Next year I hope to go one better.
Todd Woodbridge is master of ceremonies in the Rod Laver. Albert Albanese is there, as is the governor of Victoria and there’s a, er, slightly muted reception for them both. Louder applause for Billie-Jean King, who will be doing the presentations.
The Pat Cash moment.
The emotions flow, though there is respect between the players at the net. Tears in Sabalenka’s eyes, and a shy smile from Rybakina. The Wimbledon champ got overpowered in the end but played her full part in a classic final, really one to remember.
Sabalenka wins the Australian Open, beating Rybakina 4-6 6-3 6-4
Rybakina makes a mess of a backhand chance for a winner. 15-0. But a poor second serve takes it to 15-15. There are wobbles on the Sabalenka serve, and 15-30 it is. Nerves very visibly creeping in. For both players, Rybakina clanks one out of bounds, and it’s 30-30. A huge serve it’s match point all of a sudden. Can she take it? Out on the first serve, and it was massive. But then comes a big one on the second, and a double fault. Another match point with a club forehand down the line. Just in. Another chance. Another missed first serve. And then Rybakina saves herself. Deuce once more. And then, a top-spun whipped forehand and it’s break point rather than match point. Oh Lordy. Saved by a missile of a serve to the furthest reaches. Another missed first serve.
But then another match point as a pained Rybakina can only net from the baseline. Guess what? A missed first serve. The second is mighty, but returned. And the followup goes out. This is a marathon test of nerves. Here comes another. Big serve, come to the net, wallop. This time? The serve is big, but Rybakina keeps it in, only to go long just as she looks to have control of the rally. Sabalenka is the champion, and what a match, and what a comeback she played.
Sabalenka 4-6 6-3 5-4 *Rybakina
Real determination at 15-15 from Sabalenka, and it’s Rybakina who makes the mistake after a long, panicked rally. But Sabalenka goes long for 30-15 to the Kazakh player. 40-30, for which Rybakina nets, offers up a glimmer. But fine serving means it’s held. Sabalenka must serve for the match.
Sabalenka* 4-6 6-3 5-3 Rybakina
Rybakina produces a great return for the opening point. But that’s levelled by some solid serving. And 30-15 arrives via the same. Rybakina’s mistake offers up two big game points. Sabalenka overboils a forehand to concede one of them. And then a second serve sits up for Rybakina to pummel home for deuce. A crashing serve for advantage to Sabalenka, but a weak second serve means Rybakina takes it back level. Sabalenka’s huge serving over the next two points, the second one an ace, and she’s within a game of winning a slam.
Sabalenka 4-6 6-3 4-3 *Rybakina
New balls. The last lot were treated with extreme prejudice. Rybakina’s serves being swatted back to her and 30-30 feels like a Rubicon moment. And on the second serve, Sabalenka clubs home. Break point. A big one, too. But saved by a kick serve. Another one comes along soon, when Rybakina goes long from the baseline. Another save, when Sabalenka does the same. When Rybakina has an advantage, Sabalenka clubs a backhand home. And soon enough comes along a third break point. Second serve, too, and at last, Sabalenka finds her way through, ramming down an overhead to claim it. She can serve herself within four points of glory.
Sabalenka* 4-6 6-3 3-3 Rybakina
Sabalenka serving up some bombs and it’s 40-15. Rybakina can’t get near a break. Big hold, almost easy.
Sabalenka 4-6 6-3 2-3 *Rybakina
Rybakina plants a winner on the line for a 30-0 lead but then comes a first double fault. Untimely but not necessarily fatal. And then, having to chase down the line, she misses. 30-30, Sabalenka smelling blood. A missed first serve, and that’s brutalised down the court by Sabalenka’s forehand. A break point chance, but saved by a skidding first serve. Then another big one but she misreads a service return for deuce and visible disappointment. On second serve, Sabalenka forces a deuce with some real power. And big noise. But the hold is on, and saved. Yet more guts. Sabalenka has only won two from 10 break points.
Sabalenka* 4-6 6-3 2-2 Rybakina
Some wobbles on Sabalenka’s serve? Perhaps but she gets the deal done. The hitting continues to be fearsome and Rybakina is not getting close to breaking her.
Sabalenka 4-6 6-3 1-2 *Rybakina
Big serving from Rybakina for 30-15, an ace. But Sabalenka digs out a nice backhand, for 30-30, only to lose the next rally on a net cord bounce that is snaffled up. Then Rybakina wins a long rally, and that’s a hold. They’re all gutsy holds at this point.
Sabalenka* 4-6 6-3 1-1 Rybakina
Sabelanka’s big hitting is on point now. Well, mostly. She makes a terrible miss of a forehand off the baseline. But at 40-15 she has space for it. The hold is seen out.
Sabalenka 4-6 6-3 0-1 *Rybakina
Rybakina, trying not to crack in the first game of the decider, starts well but her second serve is being bullied. Still, at 40-15 she has chance to put the pressure back on her opponent. Scratch that on the second serve; she serves a beauty, and takes the first game. Well done.
Sabalenka takes the second set 6-3, taking match to decider
Sabalenka* 4-6 6-3 Rybakina
How are Sabalenka’s nerves? Wobbling perhaps. Rybakina takes it to 30-30 by reading a forehand and guiding it down the line. But a set point arrives via a crunching serve. And then on second serve, at 40-30, that Sabalenka levels the match.
Sabalenka 4-6 5-3 *Rybakina
Three sets was the prediction, and it looks likely to comes to pass, with Sabalenka landing two set points, the first saved by a serve, the quickest so far from the Kazakh. There’s bird mess on the court, too, which leads to a momentary delay. And Sabalenaka’s claiming of the second set is delayed by a backhand winner on Rybakina’s second serve, and then, just when it looks as if Sabalenka has it in her grasp, Rybakina punches home a stop volley. Great tennis from both. Big serve then saves another break, and that’s a hold. Two break points saved. Sabalenka must serve to win the second set.
Sabalenka* 4-6 5-2 Rybakina
New balls, so big serves expected. Sabalenka does exactly that, with big noise, too. She wins a rally by digging out a ball headed for shoelaces. Then serves out. That’s a big hold.
Sabalenka 4-6 4-2 *Rybakina
Rybakina serving to stay in this second set. Her efficiency of the opening set is becoming a memory. Sabalenka’s in the groove, and a backhand lands her 15-15. And 15-40, too, a double break on. The first break point is saved by a fine serve. The second by a skidding serve. The third, at deuce, saved by Rybakina engineering a rally to her needs. But there’s annoyance as she frames an attempted winner to pull it back to deuce. Then comes a backhand winner from the baseline from Sabalenka. A marathon game sees deuce after deuce but eventually Rybakina holds.
Big win for the Briton over 16-year-old Tokito Oda, 6-3, 6-1
Sabalenka* 4-6 4-1 Rybakina
Untimely error from the server and it’s 15-30. But then Rybakina can’t scrape over a drop. She mutters to herself. Sabalenka then drives to 40-30, but succumbs to a deuce. And then the spectre of a double fault. And then a second serve. But this time she survives, clattering her return of the return home. “Come on,” she bellows. Far better serve to claim the advantage, but saved by the Rybakina forehand. An overhead claims another advantage for the server. Another “come on” and it’s served out to audible relief.
Sabalenka 4-6 3-1 *Rybakina
Rybakina’s forehand was the murder weapon out there. It’s been irresistible, but Sabalenka is feeling her way back in and wins a long rally at the net for 30-30. And a break point presents itself, only to be saved by an angled serve, an ace. But another comes along when Rybakina’s forehand breaks down, and that’s a break. Hello, three sets may soon beckon, and Rybakina’s gone a bit milky.
Sabalenka* 4-6 2-1 Rybakina
Sabalenka will continue to go for her big serves. She’s one of life’s triers, and it’s her best route into the match. But she continues to make mistakes and an error from the baseline forces it to 40-40. Big serve, her seventh ace, and she has the advantage. And game. Well done. An hour gone, and it’s been all guts from both players, the glory still up for grabs.
Sabalenka 4-6 1-1 *Rybakina
Big noise from Sabalenka, and Rybakina is being put under pressure. A neat drop shot lands her 15-0. Sabalenka levels with another winner down the line. And then launches another backhand, and it’s becoming a tight contest in which the Belarusian player seems likely to crack her Kazakh opponent. And yet it’s 30-30, and then Sabalenka sees her chance and misses a service return. Still, she lands the next, and it’s deuce. A shanked forehand hands Rybakina the advantage, and that’s followed by a big serve. Yet another gutsy hold.
Sabalenka* 4-6 1-0 Rybakina
Sabalenka attempts to put the yips behind her, but her opponent is in the groove. And lands two break points at 15-40. One player is cool, the other is making the more noise. Still, Sabalenka saves the first break. And the second, too, both off the line, narrow margins required. Big serve for advantage, and more power play saves the day. A gutsy hold, as they say.
Rybakina wins the first set 6-4
Sabalenka 4-6 *Rybakina
Rybakina sees her chance, and her second serve is working. It takes her to 30-0, and then a sweeping forehand rears up and she has three set points. That’s served out at the first time of asking. She came back from dropping her serve with real determination.
Sabalenka* 4-5 Rybakina
The pendulum swingeth once more. Sabalenka wants to maintain her momentum, but gets to 0-30 down, and then a big second serve leads her to gain a foothold at 15-30. Then anguish as she nets, and it’s 15-40, and a big break on offer. First one saved, but then comes another double. Is she going too big on her second serve? Rybakina can serve for the first set.
Sabalenka 4-4 *Rybakina
Three break-back points as the Rybakina serve begins to malfunction, and then Sabalenka, from the baseline, crashes the winner and it’s levels, you devils.
Sabalenka* 3-4 Rybakina
A third double fault means it’s 15-30, and she’s going for it on her second serves. A yell after Sabalenka comes out on top in a rally for 40-30. And then, crashing a backhand home as the ball rises and it’s a hold.
Sabalenka 2-4 *Rybakina
Rybakina’s turn to serve big, and she closes off the door to a break, acing home with a serve down the middle line.
Sabalenka* 2-3 Rybakina
Big serving from Sabalenka takes her to 40-0 once more, and at 40-15, she thwacks a backhand home to stop the rot.
Sabalenka 1-3 *Rybakina
Can Rybakina force her advantage? Sabalenka’s radar seems a bit off, and she goes long for 30-0. Big serve forces 40-0. But Sabalenka then forces a long rally where she gets the better of things, before Rybakina’s raking backhand puts her in a commanding lead in the opening set.
Sabalenka* 1-2 Rybakina
Well, here we go, a break of serve. The Sabalenka serve initially looks to have recovered from that early double as she races to 40-0, though Rybakina uses its pace for a return winner on her forehand, and then, after a net cord, a walloping whipped forehand for 30-40. Then comes deuce, after another service return seen early. Then a double for a break point, and another skidding return forces an error.
Sabalenka 1-1 *Rybakina
Rybakina’s serve is not as mighty, but still pretty potent. Russell Crowe is looking on, as the Kazakh player gets to 40-15 and then game. Sisters, what we do in life… echoes in eternity.
Sabalenka* 1-0 Rybakina
And away we go, and start with a double fault. Not the best start and one followed by an ace. And next a big serve, and a crashing forehand followup for 30-15. An ace gets the job done.
The players take to the court, Rybakina first, followed by Sabalenka. The trophy is in view of them as they enter the Rod Laver arena. They pose for photos, and the toss. Sabalenka will serve first, and they can begin the knock-up.
Conditions news from the i’s tennis man.
Some earlier results from Melbourne Park.
Tumaini Carayol is on the scene in Melbourne ahead of a much awaited blastfest.
There are times when players in top form meet too early in a grand slam and other events can look lopsided by the end, but as Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina face off in their first Melbourne final there is no doubt these are the two best players of the tournament.
This seems a perfectly poised final, with Sabalenka chasing her first Slam, and Rybakina, the Wimbledon champion, facing off at Melbourne Park. It’s Belarus v Kazakhstan and between two players seeking to break into the gap at the top of the women’s game. Rybakina is mentally tough, while Sabelenka has the power. Both six-footers, they have the game to win this tournament and it seems a close one to call. Sabalenka has won all of their three meetings together, at Wimbledon in 2021, Abu Dhabi in 2021 and Wuhan in 2019. All three matches went to three sets, and that seems a likely outcome here. The stakes are the highest they could be, and who will have the mental strength to prevail?