Aryna Sabalenka has become the first woman in 11 years to defend her title at the Australian Open after a crushing victory against China's Qinwen Zheng in Saturday night's final. The World No.2 cruised to a 6-3 6-2 victory in just 76 minutes with the one-sided affair briefly halted by a protest in the second set.
Zheng was thoroughly outclassed by the Belarusian in the opening set as the magnitude of her first grand slam final and quality of her opponent took its toll. The Chinese star was aiming to become the first tennis player from her country since Li Na in 2014 to win the Australian Open title but never managed to get any momentum as the power and precision of Sabalenka stifled the 21-year-old.
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The Chinese star was done no favours by the crowd in the second set as a protester had to be escorted out of Rod Laver Arena for shouting out before Zheng was serving. The spectator could be heard yelling out 'free Palestine' and was seen holding the flag before security rushed in to remove them from the stadium.
Many fans acknowledged that while the intention behind the protest was honourable, the location and timing was far from ideal and particularly unfair on Zheng. The 12th seed ultimately ended up holding her serve in the game, but angry viewers hit out at the protester on social media, describing the disturbance in the women's final as "pathetic" and inappropriate.
— Andrew Jerell Jones, Luke 1:37 (IG:twdbk3) (@sluggahjells) January 27, 2024
Wth was that ..this crowd is pathetic. Let the players play. #AusOpen
— ✨️🦋QueenB🦋✨️ (@divine_art3mis) January 27, 2024
Bloke in the crowd shouts out “free Palestine” midway through women’s final.
His protest failed to have the desired impact as he was booed as he left the arena and security were cheered. #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/asnnKW3lvx
— Shane McInnes (@shanemcinnes) January 27, 2024
Not these moronic protestors at the tennis again
Seriously - GET LOST! #AusOpen
— Drew Semmens (@drewie_5) January 27, 2024
The women's final is currently suspended as two protesters with a Palestinian flag and shouting "FREE PALESTINE".
Security much quicker than last time (Norrie vs Zverev) and play is held up by a minute at most.#AusOpen
— James Gray (@jamesgraysport) January 27, 2024
— Carrie (@MissCarrieW) January 27, 2024
Apparently it was a protest for Palestine.
Even so... Still the wrong time, place and method to be doing it.#AusOpen
— Rahim™ 🇬🇧🇲🇦 (@rahim94) January 27, 2024
Aryna Sabalenka defends Aus Open title in style
Sabalenka looked as though she was going to cruise to victory in a little over 70 minutes after racing out to a 5-2 lead in the second stanza and setting up a number of championship points. Zheng refused to go out easily though and staved off four match points, before Sabalenka finally sealed her second Australian Open title at the fifth time of asking.
The World No.2 broke Zheng three times without dropping her own serve all night and is now one tournament win away from supplanting Iga Swiatek as World No.1. Sabalenka's impressive win sees her join tennis greats Ash Barty (2022), Serena Williams (2017), Maria Sharapova (2008) and Lindsay Davenport (2000) as one of only five women this century to lift the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup without dropping a set.
Sabalenka asserted her dominance early by winning the opening three games of the match, as well as the first two in the second set. The Belarusian never realistically looked like losing, with fans describing it as a "brutal" display and lamenting how lopsided the final was.
Sabalenka too brutal 💀
— Sire_ID (@itz_mracks) January 27, 2024
Wow, that was a brutal match. Not exactly fun to watch. Sabalenka was on 🔥 non-stop. Still a lot for Zheng to be proud of 🙏 Top 10 and first grand slam final ✅️ #AusOpen
— Just Jen 💪 (@dumblydore) January 27, 2024
The ceremonial stuff before and after the final will last about as long as the match itself. Sabalenka romps through the tournament (481 minutes) and the final (76 minutes) in near-record time.
Seven matches in eight hours. Graf-like efficiency. Brilliant and brutal. #AusOpen
— Neil McMahon (@NeilMcMahon) January 27, 2024
Sabalenka literally DESTROYED everyone in this tournament. Unbelievable Performance.
— Mahmoud Salah (@Mahmoudd675) January 27, 2024
Sabalenka was presented with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup by Aussie great Evonne Goolagong Cawley after the commanding victory. In a classy winner's speech, the Belarusian thanked the tennis legend for being such an inspirational figure in the sport, while also praising the performance of her vanquished rival. “Thanks Evonne for being such an inspiration for us, and for this beautiful trophy," Sabalenka said.
"I want to say to Zheng, you’re such an incredible player such a young girl, I know it is disappointing to lose a final but you’ll get there. It has been an amazing couple of weeks, it is an unbelievable feeling right now. As always my speech is going to be weird, its not my super power, but I’ll do my best. My team, wow [ they give her a heart sign] thank you for everything.
“I never speak about my family in my winning speeches, should I go on, they won’t understand me.... hopefully someone will translate. I love you so much, you’re my biggest motivation, I’m doing it for you. And thanks for the incredible crowd here, that’s what makes this place special. I can’t wait to come back and hopefully," she stopped before hugging the trophy.
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