Aryna Sabalenka Powers Past Zheng To Clinch Second Australian Open Title - UBITENNIS
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Aryna Sabalenka Powers Past Zheng To Clinch Second Australian Open Title

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Aryna Sabalenka has become the first woman in over a decade to defend their title at the Australian Open after blasting her way past an inexperienced Qinwen Zheng.

The world No.2 showed little sign of nerves throughout her comprehensive 6-3, 6-2, win over 12th seed Zheng, who is only the second Chinese player in history to reach the final in Melbourne after Li Na. Sabalenka’s tactic of hitting heavy and deep towards the baseline drew numerous errors from her rival. Furthermore, she was dominant behind her first serve where she won 32 out of 38 points played and hit 13 winners against 14 unforced errors.

Sabalenka has become the first woman to defend her Australian Open title since compatriot Victoria Azarenka did so back in 2013. She has now won 14 Tour-level titles in her career with 12 of those being on a hardcourt.

“It has been an amazing couple of weeks, it is an unbelievable feeling right now,” Sabalenka said during the trophy presentation. 
“My team, wow, thank you for everything.
“I never speak about my family in my winning speeches. I love you so much, you’re my biggest motivation and I’m doing it for you.”

Playing in her third major final against Zheng who was making her debut at the age of 21, Sabalenka started off guns blazing by claiming the first three games contested in the final. Although she was tested early on after battling back from a 0-40 deficit to hold her second service game. Despite that blip, the second seed continued to dictate play with the use of her powerful hitting against her opponent who was gradually starting to find some rhythm in her game. However, the problem for Zheng was that she struggled to find a way to tame the Sabalenka serve.  

After less than 30 minutes of play, the second seed stormed to a trio of set points at 5-2 but failed to convert any of those due to some impressive play from her opponent. However, she triumphed in the following game where sealed the set out by hitting a blistering serve that Zheng returned out. 

Despite her strong start, Sabalenka was wary that she still had work to do to avoid a repeat of what happened to her in the final of the 2023 US Open where she clinched the opener before losing to Coco Gauff. A thunderous forehand return followed by a costly Zheng double fault enabled her to break right away at the start of the second frame. 

Shortly after this, the match came to a brief pause as a result of a protest. As Zheng was about to serve, outbursts of ‘free Palestine’ erupted from the crowd in what was yet another incident to occur at the event related to the ongoing situation in Gaza. According to witnesses, two people were involved in the latest disruption and they were showing a Palestinian flag during their demonstration. 

On the court, Sabalenka continued to close in on her 66 Grand Slam win and her 22nd at the Australian Open. Serving for victory, she failed to convert her first two championship points due to forehand errors before a splendid Zheng drop shot saved the third. In the end, it was fourth time lucky after she hit a clean forehand cross-court winner.

“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,” Sabalenka commented.

Despite her loss, there are still plenty of positives for Zheng to take away with her. Her run to the final has sealed her place in the world’s top 10 for the first time in her career. Before playing Sabalenka, she hadn’t faced a top 50 player in the entire tournament. 

“It’s my first (Grand Slam) final and I’m feeling a little bit pitty but that’s how it is. It’s an experience for me,” said Zheng.
“Right now I feel very complicated because I feel that I could have done better.
“I enjoyed playing this Australian Open Open, it was an amazing memory for me. I’m sure there is going to be more and better (ones) in the future.”

Sabalenka is only the second player in the last 20 years to have won her first two major titles at the Australian Open. She is also the fifth woman since 2000 to have won the Melbourne title without dropping a set in the entire tournament. 

She exits the tournament with £1.68m in prize money and 2000 ranking points. However, she will remain in second place behind Iga Swiatek when the WTA standings are updated on Monday. 

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Krejcikova Comes Alive With Her Serve To Win 12th Grand Slam Title At Wimbledon

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image via x.com/wimbledon

It must have seemed like the whole world was against her when Barbora Krejcikova served for the match for a third time against crowd favorite Jasmine Paolini.

But Krejcikova was only going for her 12th Grand Slam title. She was well prepared.

So, she released her patented way-out-wide serve to the smallish Paolini’s backhand, and the best the Italian could do was get her racket on the ball enough to return the serve far off the court, long and wide.

ARMS UP FOR A CHAMPION

The weight of the world was gone as Krejcikova threw her arms over her head and calmly walked to the net to greet the Wimbledon runner-up.

Now, Krejcikova was half-way home to a career Grand Slam in singles. She already owns a career Grand Slam in doubles among her dozen Grand Slam titles that also include one mixed doubles Grand Slam title.

She has won the hard ones, the French Open on clay and Wimbledon on grass.

At 28 years old, anything must look possible to this 5-10 Czech.

KREJCIKOVA COMES THROUGH UNDER PRESSURE

Paolini simply was out played in a second straight Grand Slam final, on clay and on grass. Now she faces the real tests, two straight Grand Slam tournaments on hard surfaces that might not be overly friendly to the 5-4 Paolini.

But there it was, a 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 victory for Krejcikova on Wimbledon’s famed Center Court.

After what might be called a throw-away second set for Krejcikova, she came alive in the third set, pinning Paolini to the deep corners while nailing low hard-hit balls to both corners.

Krejcikova got off to 40-0 starts on her first four service games of the decisive set and ended all four with service winners to take a 5-3 lead (with the aid of the only service break of the third set). She yielded only one point in those four service games, a double fault at 40-0 that was followed by an ace.

Of course, it was the serve again that saved the day for Krejcikova and gave her set points two and three, then sealed the deal for a spot in Wimbledon history.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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Wimbledon Finalist Jasmine Paolini – ‘I’m A Little Bit Scared To Dream Too Much’

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After coming close to her maiden Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, Jasmine Paolini believes consistency is key to having another shot at glory.

The 28-year-old dropped only one set en route to becoming the first Italian woman to reach a Wimbledon final. However, she was denied the title by Barbora Krejcikova, who won in three sets. Paolini was broken once in the decider which was due to a double fault from the Italian following an unsuccessful hawk-eye challenge made on her first serve. Then she failed to convert two break points when down 4-5 before Krejcikova held to seal glory.

“I started bad,” she reflected afterwards.

“I took some time and try to relax and to come back in the second set stronger to try to push the ball more because I was a little bit controlling too much, and I missed a lot of shots.

“She was playing, honestly, very good the first set. She was serving really, really good. High percentage of first serves.

“It was tough but I think I did better than the last final (at the French Open), but still it’s not enough.”

Prior to Saturday, Paolini had scored wins over former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, Medison Keys (via retirement) and a marathon victory over Donna Vedic. She has now won 15 Grand Slam matches in 2024 compared to just one last season.

The defeat comes less than two months after the French Open where Paolini contested her first major final but lost in two sets to world No.1 Iga Swiatek. Since the start of this season, she has risen more than 20 places in the rankings and will reach No.5 on Monday.

Despite being in her late 20s, the Italian is producing some of her best tennis on the Tour. Something she credits to a combination of things. 

“I improved my game a little bit. I believe more in myself. I improved my serve. I think I improve the return.” She explained.

“I think physically I’m better than two years ago. I’ve been working with a new fitness coach for one-and-a-half years.

“There are many things, I think. Not just one. I think also winning matches helps a lot.”

Whilst she is heading in the right direction on the Tour, Paolini has vowed not to get too ahead of herself.

“Sometimes I’m a little bit scared to dream too much.” she said.

“I’m going back, trying to practice and stay in the present. This is the goal for me and my team, to try to keep this level as much as possible.

“If I keep this level, I think I can have the chance to do great things.

“Today I was dreaming of holding the (Wimbledon) trophy but it didn’t go well.

“I’m just enjoying the position where I am right now.”

Paolini has won 30 out of 43 matches on the Tour so far this season.

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Jasmine Paolini’s Wimbledon Run Hailed By Italian Prime Minister

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The Prime Minister of Italy has praised Jasmine Paolini for lighting up the hearts of others during her Wimbledon run. 

Paolini missed out on her first Grand Slam title to Barbora Krejcikova, who prevailed in three sets to capture her second major trophy. Despite her defeat, she has made history at the tournament by becoming the first female player from her country to reach the final. Until this year, she had never won a Tour-level main draw match on the grass. 

Whilst disappointed about missing out on the biggest title of her career, Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni posted a tribute to Paolini on social media just moments after the final had concluded.

“Proud of Jasmine Paolini,” The Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA) quotes Meloni as saying. 

“The first Italian tennis player to reach the final of the prestigious Wimbledon tournament. 

“Despite the defeat, you lit up the hearts of the Italian people, succeeding in conveying grit and passion to all of us who supported you”. 

Paolini is the first player ranked outside the top five to reach the final of both Wimbledon and the French Open within the same year since the ranking system was introduced in 1975. She is also only the fourth female player in the Open Era to have reached her first two Grand Slam finals in the same year at Roland Garros and Wimbledon after Chris Evert (1973), Olga Morozova (1974) and Steffi Graf (1987). 

Should she win three or more matches at the US Open later this year, she will also set a new Open Era record for the most Grand Slam wins achieved by an Italian female player in a single season. 

“The last two months have been crazy for me. I want to thank my team, and my family. They always support me and I wouldn’t be here without them. The crowd have been amazing. I received a lot of support. Just incredible to feel the love from them, I enjoy it so much.” Paolini said following her Wimbledon defeat. 

The 28-year-old will rise to a ranking high of No.3 on Monday. 

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