Aryna Sabalenka in shock scenes as tennis fans saddened over Victoria Azarenka drama

The Australian Open champ suffered a stunning loss in her first match since the grand slam triumph.

Victoriza Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka in Dubai.
Victoria Azarenka retired hurt against Elena Rybakina, while Aryna Sabalenka lost to Donna Vekic. Image: Getty

Aryna Sabalenka has lost her first first match since winning the Australian Open in January on a day of high drama at the Dubai Tennis Championships. The World No.2, making her return to the tour after her Australian Open triumph, coughed up a set and 2-0 lead in a shock 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 6-0 loss to Donna Vekic.

After winning the first set in a tiebreaker, Sabalenka led 2-0 with a game point for 3-0 in the second and looked well on her way to victory. But a stunning winner from Vekic kept her alive and seemed to act as a massive turning point.

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The Croatian went on to record a staggering comeback victory - her sixth win over Sabalenka in eight meetings. Vekic dominated the early encounters against Sabalenka before the Belarusian broke into the upper echelons of women's tennis.

"I was on the beach already," Vekic admitted after the match, thinking she was destined to lose. "To be honest, I didn't have big expectations coming to Dubai. Told my coach that I'm taking this week as half holidays. I can tell you I spent more time on the beach than on the court. Maybe that's a good way going forward."

Donna Vekic in action against Aryna Sabalenka in Dubai.
Donna Vekic celebrates during her match against Aryna Sabalenka in Dubai. (Getty Images)

While Sabalenka committed a series of double-faults, Vekic was merciless when given an opportunity. She won 12 of the last 13 games to set up a clash with Sorana Cirstea, who beat Veronika Kudermetova 6-1 6-4.

"I feel the conditions here don't fit me well at all. It's really tricky for me to compete here in Dubai," Sabalenka said. "I won the first set. I was up with break. I didn't feel like I was up. The level was so bad today from me.

“I'll stay here for a couple of days, then I'm going to move to LA and keep practising, keep fixing problems which happened today. Hopefully I'll be in better shape for Indian Wells.”

Swiatek and Coco Gauff win as Victoria Azarenka retires hurt

Two of Sabalenka's biggest rivals avoided similar fates, with World No.1 Iga Swiatek battling to a 6-4 6-4 win over Sloane Stephens, and No.3 Coco Gauff accounting for Elisabetta Cocciaretto of Italy 6-1 7-5. World No.4 Elena Rybakina also avoided an upset when Victoria Azarenka retired in distress.

Azarenka appeared to be suffering physically as the match wore on, and pulled the pin after losing the second set 6-2. The Belarusian had won the first 6-4 and looked like causing another huge boilover. Azarenka appeared to be in tears as she left the court, leaving fans saddened for the two-time grand slam champion.

“It’s not easy to finish a match like this. I actually didn’t understand what happened," Rybakina said. "Maybe it was from before. Just wish a speedy recovery to Vika. Happy to play another match here. It’s a bit difficult to get used to the conditions, but really happy I’m going to play another one.”

Also on Tuesday, Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova bounced back to form, beating Peyton Stearns for the third time in eight months 6-1 5-7 6-2. Jelena Ostapenko eased past Lulu Sun, while eighth seed Maria Sakkari snapped a run of three straight defeats by beating Emma Navarro.

Karolina Muchova, who was runner-up at the French Open last year, also revealed on Tuesday that she's had an operation on her right wrist for an injury that has sidelined her since reaching the semi-finals of the US Open in September. "The surgery was successful and I'm gonna do all I can to see you on the court again soon," Muchova wrote on social media.

with agencies

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