Following a titleless 2022, Aryna Sabalenka is already back in the winner’s circle in the first week of 2023.
Sabalenka won her 11th career singles title with a 6-3, 7-6(4) victory over qualifier Linda Noskova in the Adelaide International 1 final Sunday. It is World No.5 Sabalenka’s first title since she took the crown at Madrid in May of 2021.
"I think I'm a different player right now," Sabalenka said after her win, when reflecting on her time between titles. "Maybe a little bit smarter, a little bit calmer on court. Just a little bit of everything changed."
Return to victory: Sabalenka went 0-3 in finals last year, but she picked up momentum at the end of 2022 with a late-season qualification for the WTA Finals in Fort Worth, culminating with a runner-up performance to Caroline Garcia at the year-ending showpiece.
This week, the No.2 seed Sabalenka recaptured her winning ways, charging through the 1-hour and 43-minute final to wrap up the tournament. Sabalenka won the trophy without the loss of a set all week.
It is the third time Sabalenka has won a title in the opening week of the season. She pulled off the same feat with Week 1 titles in both 2019 (Shenzhen) and 2021 (Abu Dhabi).
Rising star: Despite the loss in the final, it was still a huge breakthrough week for World No.102 Noskova. The 18-year-old became the youngest finalist at a WTA 500-level event or higher since Caroline Wozniacki won the 2008 New Haven title at 18 years and 43 days old.
Noskova picked up her first two Top 10 wins over Daria Kasatkina and Ons Jabeur during the event, and the Czech will skyrocket into the Top 60 of Monday’s new singles rankings.
Tale of the match: Sabalenka made her life easier when she got her first serve into play during the final, winning 93 percent of points starting with that shot (29-of-31). Sabalenka hit 12 aces and saved all three break points she faced in the match.
"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."
After both players dodged a pair of early break points, Sabalenka took control by breaking for 4-2 behind a powerful backhand. Sabalenka raced through the rest of the first set, dropping only one more point on her delivery as she deployed excellent serves and forehands.
Noskova, who exhibited exceptional composure despite playing in her first career final, kept the second set much closer, and the teen was two points away from leveling the match after slamming a return winner for deuce at 5-4. However, the second set eventually moved into a tiebreak.
In the breaker, Noskova gave Sabalenka a head start by firing two early double faults, and Sabalenka used that to her advantage, powering her way to 5-1. A winning passing shot gave Sabalenka triple championship point at 6-3, and she hit one last sterling serve on her second match point.