Aryna Sabalenka.
Aryna Sabalenka has her eyes on the prize as she chases a second straight Australian Open title. Image by Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS
  • tennis

Sabalenka favoured to win second Australian Open title

John Salvado January 27, 2024

Red-hot favourite Aryna Sabalenka and her entourage aren’t looking at the Australian Open decider against Chinese underdog Zheng Qinwen as a title defence.

Rather, it’s a chance to create some new history for the 25-year-old Belarusian, who broke her grand slam duck at Melbourne Park in 2023.

The No.2 seed has not dropped a single set in six matches at this year’s Open, the toughest of which was her 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 semi-final win over Coco Gauff in which she exacted some revenge for last year’s US Open final.

In contrast, No.12 seed Zheng has been taken the distance three times, with all six of her vanquished opponents ranked outside the world’s top 50.

The pair’s only previous meeting came in the quarter-finals of last year’s US Open, where Sabalenka won 6-1 6-4.

Zheng Qinwen in quarter-final action at the Australian Open.
 Zheng’s powerful serve and strong forehand have fired her to a first grand slam final. Image by Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS 

“We never see this tournament as like a defence,” said Sabalenka’s coach Anton Dubrov.

“Because we’ve already won it, so this one is another one.

“It’s definitely different expectations from people outside, but we’re trying to bring our focus back to what we have to do to be better on the court, what we have to do to win this match, to play against this girl.

“It’s not about defending, because this one is a new one; it’s always like a new one.

“Every next one, no matter what the tournament, will be harder because of the expectations, because everyone is like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s going to be easier for you, and blah, blah, blah’.

“But no, it’s not. Every time is just harder and harder.”

Aryna Sabalenka with the 2023 Australian Open trophy.
 Sabalenka’s team insist last year’s Australian Open win will not cast a shadow over 2024’s effort. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

Through to her maiden grand slam final, Zheng is looking to become the first Chinese woman since Li Na 10 years ago to lift the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.

The 21-year-old has served a tournament-best 48 aces in her run to the final – double the tally of Sabalenka. She also relies heavily on a big forehand.

“Qinwen is serving really well – it’s unbelievable the talent that she has,” said her Spanish coach Pere Riba.

“She can toss the ball different, she can do different motions … she can serve really good.”