Aryna Sabalenka beats Elena Rybakina 4-6 6-3 6-4 in controversial Australian Open win as Belarus sits in lockdown with Ukraine

ARYNA SABALENKA became a controversial winner of the Australian Open women’s title – the first success for a Belarusian athlete since the start of the war in Ukraine.

The Minsk woman delivered a service masterclass as she came from behind to beat Elena Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a thrilling match at Rod Laver Arena.

Sabalenka came from behind to hit Elena Rybakina


Sabalenka came from behind to hit Elena RybakinaPhoto credit: Getty
She won the match 4-6 6-3 6-4


She won the match 4-6 6-3 6-4Credit: Alamy

The 24-year-old lifted the crown here in Melbourne in the unusual, perhaps unprecedented, position of playing under a neutral flag.

Because the colors and symbols of their country, Belarus, are generally banned on the international stage.

Sports federations around the world made this decision when Russian troops began illegally invading Ukraine in February 2022 and Belarus was one of the key allies.

Given the sheer number of tennis stars from these two pariah nations, it was perhaps inevitable that something like this would happen, and there’s no escaping the political nature of this success.

Nobody had served better than Wimbledon champion Rybakina over the past 12 days of competition at Melbourne Park.

But the mighty Sabalenka, who admitted to serving Yips last year, fired a whopping 17 aces in three sets for her first major triumph.

Fighting back tears, she accepted the trophy from tennis icon Billie Jean King.

Sabalenka, who shrieks every time she hits the ball, reached her first Slam final after winning all TEN of her matches this year and not losing a single set.

The No. 5 seed might have opened this contest with a double fault, but she settled everyone’s nerves by nailing a 109-mile ace in the next point.

Rybakina, who opened with three straight aces in her first game, handled the swirling wind better in the first set, breaking Sabalenka in games three and nine.

The Moscow-born Kazakh won the opening set in just 34 minutes after dropping just six points on serve.

But the venom Sabalenka uses to hit the ball meant she always had a chance when Rybakina failed to land her first serve.

In fact, she knows how to fight back and last year she won six matches at Grand Slam level after losing the first set.

At 5-2 in the second set, Sabalenka’s confidence grew visibly, the momentum was on her side and she equalized thanks to a 104-mile ace.

In the third set, the turn came in game seven when Sabalenka finally managed to pick Rybakina’s serve.

Despite being labeled a choker in the past for squandering match-winning chances, Sabalenka didn’t disappoint this time and eventually managed to carve her way to glory – despite a double fault on her first match point.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable encounter but disappointingly there were hundreds of empty seats in the upper tiers – but perhaps no surprise when it costs more than £140 for a women’s final ticket. Aryna Sabalenka beats Elena Rybakina 4-6 6-3 6-4 in controversial Australian Open win as Belarus sits in lockdown with Ukraine


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