Aryna Sabalenka's brutal act amid 'pathetic' drama in Australian Open final

The World No.2 became the first woman since 2013 to defend her singles crown at Melbourne Park.

In the centre is a a protester at the Australian Open women's final between Aryna Sabalenka and Qinwen Zheng.
A protester was ejected from Rod Laver Arena during Aryna Sabalenka's victory in the Australian Open final on Saturday night. Pic: Getty

Aryna Sabalenka has become the first woman in 11 years to defend her title at the Australian Open after a crushing victory against China's Qinwen Zheng in Saturday night's final. The World No.2 cruised to a 6-3 6-2 victory in just 76 minutes with the one-sided affair briefly halted by a protest in the second set.

Zheng was thoroughly outclassed by the Belarusian in the opening set as the magnitude of her first grand slam final and quality of her opponent took its toll. The Chinese star was aiming to become the first tennis player from her country since Li Na in 2014 to win the Australian Open title but never managed to get any momentum as the power and precision of Sabalenka stifled the 21-year-old.

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The Chinese star was done no favours by the crowd in the second set as a protester had to be escorted out of Rod Laver Arena for shouting out before Zheng was serving. The spectator could be heard yelling out 'free Palestine' and was seen holding the flag before security rushed in to remove them from the stadium.

Many fans acknowledged that while the intention behind the protest was honourable, the location and timing was far from ideal and particularly unfair on Zheng. The 12th seed ultimately ended up holding her serve in the game, but angry viewers hit out at the protester on social media, describing the disturbance in the women's final as "pathetic" and inappropriate.

Aryna Sabalenka defends Aus Open title in style

Sabalenka looked as though she was going to cruise to victory in a little over 70 minutes after racing out to a 5-2 lead in the second stanza and setting up a number of championship points. Zheng refused to go out easily though and staved off four match points, before Sabalenka finally sealed her second Australian Open title at the fifth time of asking.

The World No.2 broke Zheng three times without dropping her own serve all night and is now one tournament win away from supplanting Iga Swiatek as World No.1. Sabalenka's impressive win sees her join tennis greats Ash Barty (2022), Serena Williams (2017), Maria Sharapova (2008) and Lindsay Davenport (2000) as one of only five women this century to lift the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup without dropping a set.

Seen here, Aryna Sabalenka holds the Australian Open trophy aloft.
Aryna Sabalenka is the first woman to defend her Australian Open trophy since fellow Belarusian Victoria Azarenka in 2013. Pic: Getty

Sabalenka asserted her dominance early by winning the opening three games of the match, as well as the first two in the second set. The Belarusian never realistically looked like losing, with fans describing it as a "brutal" display and lamenting how lopsided the final was.

Sabalenka was presented with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup by Aussie great Evonne Goolagong Cawley after the commanding victory. In a classy winner's speech, the Belarusian thanked the tennis legend for being such an inspirational figure in the sport, while also praising the performance of her vanquished rival. “Thanks Evonne for being such an inspiration for us, and for this beautiful trophy," Sabalenka said.

"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. It has been an amazing couple of weeks, it is an unbelievable feeling right now. As always my speech is going to be weird, its not my super power, but I’ll do my best. My team, wow [ they give her a heart sign] thank you for everything.

“I never speak about my family in my winning speeches, should I go on, they won’t understand me.... hopefully someone will translate. I love you so much, you’re my biggest motivation, I’m doing it for you. And thanks for the incredible crowd here, that’s what makes this place special. I can’t wait to come back and hopefully," she stopped before hugging the trophy.

with AAP

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