Sabalenka soars to first title on Australian soil

8 January 2023, by Dan Imhoff

Aryna Sabalenka has ended a 20-month title drought, delivering a masterful showing to end Czech teenager Linda Noskova’s dream run in the Adelaide International final.

The 24-year-old’s 6-3, 7-6(4) victory on Sunday was validation for a shift in mindset and a move to more measured aggression after a challenging 2022.

“I think my serve helped me a lot, today especially,” Sabalenka said. “I think I didn’t give her much opportunities on my serve. I was able to put her under pressure on her serve. So I think that’s why I won today.”

Sabalenka’s power had long been a sight to behold and a strength revered on tour but it took a horror stretch of serving yips, which extended beyond last summer’s Australian swing, for an acceptance to take hold.

The world No.5 said she came to understand that no amount of favouritism or shot-making brilliance guaranteed the trophy.

That very shift in attitude and a considered effort to maintain greater composure on court broke a three-match losing streak in finals through last season and her first triumph since beating Ash Barty for the Madrid title in May 2021.

“I think I’m a different player right now… I think I’m just different,” Sabalenka said.

“I’m older. Maybe a little bit smarter, little bit calmer on court. Just a little bit of everything changed.”

It was going to take something special from Noskova to turn the tides after dropping the opening set and her moment came eighth games later when Sabalenka’s fourth double fault presented a chance to break.

That opening was snuffed out with an ace and three points later Sabalenka held with another – not via brute force but a 166km/h slider down the T.

Noskova was not down for the count just yet.

She plucked off a string of low volleys to make any Czech great proud as she inched ahead 5-4 but time and again the second seed came up with the goods at the crunch.

A forehand passing shot – her 44th winner of the match – brought up three championship points in the tiebreak and she threw her head back in relief two serves later.

A weight had been lifted with her 10th career title against an opponent of which she expected a bright future.

“This young lady is going to play a lot of finals and she’s going to be a top player,” Sabalenka said. “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a lot more finals for her, and hopefully for us.

“I mean, you can feel that she [isn’t] really afraid of us. She just plays her game. No matter what, she just plays her game.”

The loss brought an end to a breakout week for the 18-year-old Noskova, who saved match points in her opening round of qualifying against Anna Kalinskaya and in the quarterfinals against Victoria Azarenka to reach her maiden tour final.

She claimed her first two top 10 wins over Daria Kasatkina and top seed Ons Jabeur en route but a third proved a bridge too far.

“Obviously a very tough match today. Aryna played just amazing,” Noskova said. “I didn’t have a lot of chances. I did have some break points, but she always served her way out of it. That was really tough to beat.”

Having started the week just outside the top 100 Noskova was bound for Melbourne as the new world No.56.

It was watershed week for the teenager in which she had learned plenty about herself.

“I think that when I trust myself and my game especially, I can just freely go for it, I can definitely play and actually beat some of the best players in the world right now,” Noskova said.

“That’s really great feeling. But I’m obviously going to have to develop my game. There are a lot of blind spots. There’s always things to work on, I think.”