MELBOURNE, Australia — The first serve Zheng Qinwen sent to Aryna Sabalenka in Saturday’s Australian Open women’s final was slapped back over the net with so much venom that it almost passed the world No. 12 before she was able to jam her racket down on it.
It was that familiar sign of immediate intent from Sabalenka, something that had held her in great stead this fortnight at Melbourne Park. It also left little doubt in anyone’s mind as to which player would be dictating terms in this match.
For 75 minutes, Sabalenka bullied her counterpart from China, smashing her way to Australian Open glory for the second time in as many years. Her 6-3, 6-2 triumph over Zheng capped one of the most dominant runs to a Slam title in tennis history, with Sabalenka a perfect 14-for-14 in sets, dropping just 31 games en route to the title.
Sabalenka, 25, never allowed first-time major finalist Zheng a moment to relax. The world No. 2 feasted on her serve, that same serve that had proved Zheng’s greatest asset in her journey to the final. If Sabalenka didn’t strike a near-unreturnable ball, it was only a matter of seconds before she was in control of the point and had her opponent scrambling behind the baseline.
Zheng, 21, had no answers for the onslaught. Instead, the barrage from the other side of the court appeared to drain her confidence. She double faulted six times, three in her first service game of the second set to hand another immediate break to Sabalenka.
When it was Sabalenka’s turn to serve, the final only appeared more one-sided. She won 84% of the points in which she landed her first serve and, aside from her opening service game, didn’t give up a single break point opportunity until the final game, when those pesky championship point nerves kicked in once again.
“I’m speechless right now,” Sabalenka said after securing the match at the fourth time of asking. “I don’t know how to describe my emotions. I’m super, super happy and proud of everything I was able to achieve. I just have to keep fighting for my dream and believe my father is…