MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — Aryna Sabalenka continued to be an irrepressible force at the Australian Open as she powered to a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Chinese 12th seed Zheng Qinwen on Saturday to successfully defend her title and add a second Grand Slam trophy to her cabinet.
The Belarusian second seed has barely put a foot wrong as she became the first woman to retain the Melbourne Park crown since compatriot Victoria Azarenka in 2013.
“It’s been an amazing couple of weeks, and I couldn’t imagine myself lifting this trophy one more time,” Sabalenka said.
“I want to congratulate you, Qinwen, on an incredible couple of weeks here in Australia. I know it’s really tough to lose in the final, but you’re such an incredible player,” she said. “You’re such a young girl, and you’re going to make many more finals and you’re going to get it.”
Sabalenka came into the match without dropping a set at the year’s first major. She remained perfect to join Ash Barty, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Lindsay Davenport in the elite club of players to have managed the feat since 2000.
She unleashed monster groundstrokes to grab the final by the scruff of the neck with an early break, and thousands of Chinese supporters and millions back home watched Zheng fall behind 3-0.
Sabalenka did not have her nation’s flags in the stands because of a ban over her country’s role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the charismatic 25-year-old has a big Melbourne fan base. She rode the Rod Laver Arena support to take the first set.
Zheng, who had saved four set points, showed she was slowly growing in confidence in her second meeting with Sabalenka by firing up her own big forehand amid the rallying cry of “Jia You” from her compatriots in the crowd.
The 21-year-old first-time finalist, bidding to match her idol Li Na — the Melbourne Park champion 10 years ago and first Chinese player to win a major — saw her hopes fade after two more errors on serve left her 4-1 down.
Sabalenka shrugged off a shaky service game to close out the most one-sided final since Azarenka beat Maria Sharapova 6-3, 6-0 in 2012.
“It’s my first final and I’m feeling a little bit pity, but that’s how it is,” Zheng said. “I feel very complicated because I could have done better than I did in this match.”