AO 2024 – Day 14: Team player Sabalenka strikes back to back

The world No.2 retained her Australian Open title without dropping a single set across the seven matches.

Aryna Sabalenka / Finale Open d'Australie 2024©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Long before her trip Down Under, Aryna Sabalenka revealed a dream with her late father was to win two Grand Slams by the age of 25-year-old. 

12 months on from a maiden major triumph in Melbourne, the world No.2 has fittingly paid to her father by retaining the Australian Open in her last Grand Slam as a 25-year-old.

What a story, what a competitor.

"I'm where I'm meant to be"

"I think it's very important to be open. I feel like I really want to be connected with my fans and make sure that they know my story and probably my story will inspire someone else and will help someone else," said Sabalenka, who lost her father in late 2019.

"There was a lot of up and downs. I just couldn't quit for my family. I want to believe there is something that my father is watching me and very proud of me.

"Now having two Grand Slam titles, it's definitely give me more confidence and belief in myself. I just have this knowing that all my life it wasn't a waste of time and I was doing the right thing. I'm where I'm meant to be.

"It was my dream. There are still so many things to achieve. There are still many goals."

Sabalenka's red-hot tennis has been irresistible all fortnight.

The reigning champion played without any weight on her shoulders, dictating play in every contest. That was very much the case on Saturday as the No.2 seed blazed past Chinese prodigy Zheng Qinwen 6-3, 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena.

Sabalenka launched to a lightning start with an immediate break. Down 0-40, the No.2 seed was taking the ball supremely early  and zoomed through five points to escape danger for 3-0 on the scoreboard.

An exceptional front runner, Sabalenka was too clean, too mean. Again Sabalenka stole an instant break in the second set and a dinked backhand drop shot was the decisive piece of magic to post a 4-1 advantage.

Zheng, competing in her maiden major final, clipped a couple of instinctive forehand passes, but Sabalenka converted her fifth match point with a another flashy forehand.

As a result, Sabalenka is the first women's singles winner to retain the title since her compatriot Victoria Azarenka in 2012-13. She's just the fifth woman this century to lift the trophy without losing a set.

12 months on, it was time for another trophy presentation and another victory lap.

"As soon as I stepped in on the court, I felt like, 'Okay, I think I'm in control, and I think I'm emotionally ready for it," said Sabalenka, winning 28 of 29 sets across the two years in Melbourne.

"So compared to last year, it's a completely different me. Compared to the US Open, once again, it's a different me. I'm more controlled and don't let the rest of the things come to my mind, and I was focusing on myself. I think it's a big difference."

Team Sabalenka embrace the pressure cooker of major tennis, making sure they work hard and play hard.

For instance, Sabalenka has been signing her physical trainer Jason Stacy's head as a ritual before matches. There's always plenty of laughter in clips across social media, they are a tight-knit group.

However their drive also makes them elite.

"It hasn't really settled in yet. It's pretty exciting," said Stacy. "During and straight after the match and on the walk here (to press), we're already talking about the things we need to work on. That's what our job is, is to always be finding things to keep moving, keep being better."

Sabalenka's coach Anton Dubrov echoed that sentiment.

"For sure we're gonna enjoy today, tomorrow, couple of days, but this is business, so we have to keep working."

With that team spirit, that unified drive, Sabalenka clearly relishes the challenge to remain amongst the very best.

"We always doing a lot of crazy stuff with the team," said Sabalenka with a smile.

"It's enough pressure on the court, and off the court we're just trying to keep it simple, keep it fun, and make sure that all of us enjoy the process."

Aryna Sabalenka et son équipe / Open d'Australie 2024©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

With her current form and relentless pursuit of silverware, it's an ominous sign for the rest of the WTA Tour. Watch out Roland-Garros, Wimbledon and beyond.

"Actually it's been in my mind that I didn't want to be that player who win it and then disappeared," continued the world No.2

"I just wanted to show that I'm able to be consistently there and I'm able to win another one. I really hope that more than two right now. That's why, no matter what the result, win or lose, we are always working hard, we always looking for things to improve in my game. 

"It's all about that process, about the discipline, make sure that you're always there, you always show up, and you always work hard.

"I definitely think that if I'm going to keep working like I'm working right now, and if we're going to keep building like now, I'm definitely able to achieve the same goals on the clay or on the grass."