Djokovic and Sabalenka Crowned Champions Down Under
Aryna Sabalenka hasn’t always had the most pleasant experience playing in Australia. Four years ago, while playing against home favourite Ash Barty, Sabalenka was mocked by the crowd, who imitated her enigmatic grunt before her serve, visibly shocking and upsetting the Belorussian. As well as sparking a debate over whether grunting is a distraction tactic in tennis, it also seemed to stay with Sabalenka, who didn’t make it past Fourth Round at the Australian Open thereafter, despite posting strong results in other slams. Until now. It seems as though Sabalenka has finally conquered her demons, storming to her fist Grand Slam title, beating Wimbledon Champion Elena Rybakina 4-6 6-3 6-4 in a heavy-hitting, high-quality final.
Rybakina and Sabalenka’s match in the Australian Open final followed a similar pattern to all of their 3 previous meetings, with Rybakina playing extremely well and competing hard, but eventually succumbing to an opponent more able to find her highest level in the biggest moments. For Rybakina, her run to the final marks the end of an extremely positive fortnight, in which she was able to prove that her Wimbledon victory wasn’t just a fluke. Her calmness and composure throughout the tournament, her excellent tennis and her graciousness in defeat will have won her many fans, and rightfully so, for a world class performer. Both women will start this week at career high rankings, with Sabalenka jumping to World Number 2, and Rybakina breaking the Top 10.
Novak Djokovic extended his remarkable winning run in Australia, winning his 28th consecutive match to claim his 10th Australian Open title, beating a below par Stefanos Tsitsipas in an underwhelming final, particularly for the large swathes of Greek fans who turned out in support of Tsitsipas throughout the tournament. Djokovic, while playing extremely well, was nowhere near his best, but Tsitsipas simply couldn’t capitalize, losing 2 key tiebreaks to squander his second opportunity at a Grand Slam final, losing 6-3 7-6 7-6.
Djokovic’s dominance in the final was merely a continuation of his stunning performances in his other 6 matches, dropping only 1 set on his way to victory. He only looked vulnerable at one stage in the entire tournament, in Round 3 against Grigor Dimitrov, who had set points to win the first set. But like Dimitrov, Tsitsipas didn’t find the right level at crucial junctures. This is becoming a pattern in Grand Slams, with several generations of talented players unable to make their mark in the majors thanks to the brilliance of the Big 3, with the only exceptions being Dominic Thiem and Carlos Alcaraz and Daniil Medvedev.
With Roland Garros coming up as the next slam, there are several questions to be answered. With Nadal’s recent form and injury record, does he have it in him to win another Grand Slam, even at a tournament he has won 14 times? Will Djokovic be able to dethrone Nadal on his least successful surface, or will Carlos Alcaraz step up and represent the next generation of talent? Only time will tell, but at the moment, Djokovic looks to be an unstoppable force.