Aryna Sabalenka - Australian Open 2023

Aryna Sabalenka praised by former No.1 after ’emotional’ Grand Slam victory

Aryna Sabalenka has won the Australian Open, which is her first Grand Slam title, and former No.1 Mats Wilander has applauded her for being ‘strong’ in the big moments.

Wilander is a tennis expert for the Australian Open, which is live and exclusive on discovery+ and Eurosport, and won seven singles Grand Slam’s, including three Australian Open titles.

“The fact that she had to serve it out as well and all the talk about her second serve. It was strong nerve-wise for her to hold there,” said Wilander.

The Belarusian beat Rybakina, 4-6 6-3 6-4, in a hard hitting-contest that had a total of 82 winners. It caps off the start of a remarkable year for Sabalenka who has continued her unbeaten run in 2023, and dropped only her first set of the year in the final on Rod Laver Arena.

The 24-year-old collapsed to the ground in tears after Rybakina’s forehand went long to give her the title, and Wilander spoke of how Sabalenka had finally fulfilled her potential.

“It’s obviously so emotional. I think Sabalenka, from the first time we saw her, she always seemed to have the mentality that she would win majors. But she sort of went a little crazy sometimes when she was in semis in Slams and you wondered if this was ever going to come.”

He continued, “I think she did so well being so aggressive because if she wasn’t so aggressive, Rybakina would control everything. I think Sabalenka did a great job to control the points when the ball was in play and that made the difference even though there weren’t that many long rallies.”

There has been a dramatic transformation for Sabalenka who was struggling with her serve in the Australian swing in 2022, including hitting a total of 21 double faults in one match. In today’s final, the Belarusian’s serve was a huge weapon hitting a total of 17 aces, while still serving seven double faults.

Wilander was keen to comment on this, “For the last six months, she couldn’t serve at all and was serving underhand but for her to get through that. I think she looks in better shape somehow, she moves better. It seems like her serve problems projected her to a different part in her career and it’s working.”

Sabalenka has become the second Belarusian to win a Grand Slam singles title, after Victoria Azarenka won the Australian Open title in 2012 and 2013. She was handed the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy by 12-time Grand Slam champion Billie Jean King, who she described as an ‘inspiration’.

The No.5 reflected on her win and thanked those closest to her, “And to my team – the craziest team on tour I would say! We’ve been through a lot of downs last year, we’ve worked so hard and you guys deserve this trophy. It’s more about you than about me. Thank you so much for everything you’re doing for me, I love you guys, thank you.”

After winning her maiden major title Sabalenka will move back up to her joint career-high of No.2 and the runner-up, Rybakina, will move into the top 10 for the first time.

Watch every match from the Australian Open live and exclusive on discovery+, Eurosport and the Eurosport App.

Matthew Johns, Tennishead Writer, is a professional tennis journalist with a specialist degree in Sports Journalism. He's a keen tennis player having represented his local club and University plus he's also a qualified tennis coach. Matthew has a deep knowledge of tennis especially the ATP Tour and thrives on breaking big tennis news stories for Tennishead.