After defeating Jelena Rybakina in the championship match on Saturday, Aryna Sabalenka executed a masterful comeback to win the Australian Open singles title for the first time. The 24-year-old Belarussian had previously won the US Open title in 2019 . The Australian Open title in 2021, but both times she shared the victory with Elise Mertens in the doubles division. That was not the only thing that had changed this year, though.
Sabalenka became the first player in history to win a Grand Slam while competing under a neutral flag because all Russian and Belarusian players are forced to compete without any national affiliation due to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Even more intriguing was the situation for Rybakina, her opponent, who was a Russian native. The current Wimbledon champion, however, made the decision to become a citizen of Kazakhstan back in 2018, which is why she was disqualified from competition as a “neutral.”
World politics, however, took a backseat on Saturday as the two talented women battled it out for the title at the Rod Laver Arena before Sabalenka won the summit match 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
No Belarusian flags were permitted inside the venue due to a rule imposed by the international tennis federations, and even Sabalenka’s nationality will not be mentioned on the winner’s trophy.
“I think everyone still knows that I’m Belarusian player. That’s it,” she told reporters after the match.
Since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, Sabalenka has endured a difficult journey. Her rankings were significantly impacted by the Wimbledon ban on tennis players from Belarus and Russia in 2022. If the decision will still be in effect in 2023 has not yet been made public.
“I mean, missing the Wimbledon was really tough for me. It was a tough moment for me,” she said.
But I did play in the U.S. Open right after. Right now, Wimbledon is not the topic. When questioned by reporters at the post-match conference, she responded, “It’s just about the hard work I’ve done.