Grand Slam champion Sabalenka targets World No. 1 spot

Grand Slam champion Sabalenka targets World No. 1 spot

Aryna Sabalenka says she wants to be world number one after winning her first Grand Slam by defeating Elena Rybakina in the Australian Open final on Saturday.

The 24-year-old came from behind to defeat defending Wimbledon champion Rybakina 4-6 6-3 6-4 at Rod Laver Arena, becoming the 58th different women’s player to win a major in the Open Era. Sabalenka, who had previously lost in three semi-finals, became the fifth female player in the Open Era to win her first grand slam final, joining Rybakina.

Sabalenka is now vying for the number one place, which is now held by Iga Swiatek, after being included to an exclusive list.

“As I’ve said, we all have the same kind of goals,” Sabalenka, set to move up to second in the updated rankings, said at her post-match press conference. “Winning a Grand Slam is not the last on my list.”

Sabalenka, who described her performance as “the best of my life”, has now won 23 matches in a row to start the 2023 season.

She made 17 aces against Rybakina, whom she is now 4-0 against in head-to-head encounters, with that bettered only by Serena Williams (18 versus Maria Sharapova in 2015) in the past 20 Australian Open women’s finals.

And the Belarusian – competing under a neutral flag in Melbourne – puts her breakthrough grand slam triumph down to changing her mindset and becoming calmer on court.

“I always had this weird feeling that when people would come to me and ask for signature, I would be like, ‘why are you asking for signature? I’m nobody. I’m a player. I don’t have a Grand Slam’ and all this stuff,” she said.

“I just changed how I feel. I started respecting myself more. I started to understand that actually I’m here because I work so hard and I’m actually good player.

“Just having this understanding that I’m a good player, understanding I can handle a lot of emotions, a lot of things on court. Every time I had a tough moment on court, I was just reminding myself that I’m good enough to handle all this.”

Rybakina defeated major champions Swiatek, Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka en route to the final, though she was unable to add to the Wimbledon crown she won in July.

The 22nd seed took the first set – the first Sabalenka has dropped this year – but her opponent’s serve soon clicked into gear and Rybakina had no response.

“She served really well today no matter the double-faults,” Rybakina said. “A few second serves she hit probably as a first serve. For sure it’s not easy mentally. She didn’t have great serve last year, but now she’s super strong and she served well. I respect that. I know how much work it takes.

“I think Aryna raised her level in the second set. She played really well, aggressive, made fewer mistakes. I should have been more aggressive also in some moments.

“I had some chances to turn it around. But she played really well today. She was strong mentally and physically. Overall it was a good two weeks for me here.”

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