AO2023: Full circle Sabalenka strikes Grand Slam glory

High octane and high stakes, the women's final at Australian Open 2023 will be remembered for many years to come.

Aryna Sabalenka / Finale Open d'Australie 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Just like most champions, falling to the floor in disbelief is a common celebration.

Just like most champions, career-defining moments include how to deal with adversity and bouncing back from the tough times.

Saturday night on Rod Laver Arena was Aryna Sabalenka's full circle moment to crown; "the best day of my life."

The 24-year-old is finally a Grand Slam champion, posting 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a high-octane final against Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina. The world No.5 launched down 17 aces and exemplified the top-tier quality with a 51-28 ratio for winners to unforced errors.

If you missed it, make sure you check out the highlights.

From tears to the title

It was a far cry from the tears trickling down her face at the 2022 Adelaide International, with double faults hindering any progress. Disintegrated confidence in her serve left Sabalenka leaving Melbourne disillusioned with her game. A year of searching for answers ensued.

Over to 2023 and the 24-year-old has lifted the trophy at both Adelaide and Melbourne Park to stand undefeated at 11-0 so far this campaign.

"I think it's even more enjoyable after all those tough matches. I really feel right now that I really needed those tough losses to kind of understand myself a little bit better," stated Sabalenka.

"It was like a preparation for me. I actually feel happy that I lost those matches, so right now I can be a different player and just different Aryna."

That different Aryna was rebuilt thanks to hard graft working with a biomechanics specialist to help work on the serve from August 2022. That was one aspect, Sabalenka was searching all sorts of avenues, including a period with a psychologist.

Another significant factor in Sabalenka's transformation has been her own soul searching, banishing doubts, utilising her buzzword from this fortnight, "calm," to keep perspective.

"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,'" recalled the 24-year-old, who will rise to world No.2 on Monday.

Aryna Sabalenka / Finale Open d'Australie 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Calm the key to major success

"I just changed how I feel. I start respect myself more. I start to understand that actually I'm here because I work so hard and I'm actually good player.

"Every time I had a tough moment on court, I was just reminding myself that I'm good enough to handle all this just everything."

On Saturday night, crunch time came at 5-4 in the decider, serving for that illusive Grand Slam, which had been expected of her for the best part of seven years.

Three match points came and went, the first a double fault. Surely not now? Surely not a return to those demons?

Instead Sabalenka kept her "calm," and grabbed her Melbourne moment at the fourth attempt with both hands.

"I was like, 'Well, it's going to be fun after the double-fault," chuckled the fifth seed.

"The last game of course I was a little bit nervous. I was keep telling myself, 'Nobody tells you that it's going to be easy, you just have to work for it, work for it till the last point."

"I'm super happy that I was able to handle all those emotions and win this one."

Sabalenka declared the powerhouse final was the best match of her career, which will be celebrated with a combination of pizza, "a lot of sweets," and champagne.

Through the smiles and pure elation, there was one message for her rivals.

"We all have kind of the same goals," stated Sabalenka, when a shot at the world No.1 ranking was mentioned. "Winning Grand Slam, of course, it's not the last one on my list."

Aryna Sabalenka et Elena Rybakina / Finale Open d'Australie 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT