Aryna Sabalenka retains Australian Open crown after demolition job on Zheng Qinwen

World No 2 defeats Chinese 12th seed 6-3, 6-2 and secures back-to-back titles at Melbourne Park

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Aryna Sabalenka made it back-to-back Australian Open titles after demolishing Zheng Qinwen in straight sets at Melbourne Park on Saturday.

The world No 2 went into the final as overwhelming favourite up against the Chinese player taking part in her first Grand Slam final.

And Sabalenka was in control from the start, taking the opening game on serve to love in under two minutes as the Belarusian then hurtled into a 3-0 then 4-1 lead before securing the first set 6-3.

The second then started in disastrous fashion for 12th seed Zeng, who served three double-faults on the way to being broken, leaving Sabalenka needing only to hold her serve to become champion again.

As it was, Zeng was soon 4-1 down after being broken again and Sabalenka powered through the rest of the set to win 6-3, 6-2 and secure her second Grand Slam crown in 76 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.

The 25-year-old became the first player to win the women’s singles title at the Australian Open for consecutive seasons since her countrywoman Victoria Azarenka achieved the feat in 2012 and 2013.

Sabalenka also became the second player in three years to secure the title having not dropped a set – Ashleigh Barty did the same in 2022.

“It’s been an amazing two weeks lifting this trophy one more time, and I’m really speechless. As always my speech is going to be weird. It’s not my superpower but I’ll try my best,” said Sabalenka on court after the match.

“I never speak about my family in the winning speeches before but I have to say thank you for everything they’ve done for me. I love you so much and you are my biggest motivation and everything I am doing, I’m doing for you.

“To the crowd, thank you so much for the support for these two weeks. I really enjoy playing in front of you and that’s what makes this place special. I love you so much and I can’t wait to come back.”

Sabalenka also had words of encouragement for Zheng: “I know this feeling – it is tough to lose in a final but you are such an incredible player, such a young girl. You are going to be in many more finals and you are going to get it,” she said.

Sabalenka proved a step too far for Zheng, who navigated her way to the final without facing anyone in the world's top 50 – or even another seeded player.

But she did become the first Chinese woman to reach the final – and now enter the world's top 10 players – since Li Na in 2014.

“First of all I want to say congratulations to you Aryna – you had such a wonderful match here,” said Zheng in her on-court speech. “It was my first final and I’m feeling a little bit [of] pity but that’s how it is, an experience for me.

“I want to say thanks for all the fans who come here to watch me. I feel I could do better but I didn’t in this match but I wanted to say thanks to my team to help me arrive here.

“I really enjoyed playing in this Australian Open, it's an amazing memory for me. I'm sure there is going to be more and better in the future.”

The Belarusian had opened the game with a comfortable serve then got a look at two break points at 15-40 in Zheng's opening service game when the Chinese star sprayed a backhand wide. She seized the chance, attacking her opponent's second serve for the break.

Sabalenka consolidated on serve for 3-0, but only after saving three break points as Zheng's nerves settled and she worked to get into the contest.

But she had few answers to the booming Sabalenka serve, struggling to get the ball back over the net and into any rallies.

Zheng saved three set points with a pair of aces and a winner to hold for 3-5, but it was delaying the inevitable as Sabalenka closed out the set on serve in 33 minutes.

Three double faults, including on break point, immediately put Zheng on the back foot on the second set as the pressure took its toll.

And there was no way back as she conceded another break to slump 4-1 behind when Sabalenka perfectly played a drop shot.

Fighting until the end, Zheng saved four championship points before the second seed closed out the match to bank her 14th career title.

Updated: January 27, 2024, 11:14 AM