The 2023 Australian Open final was the fourth time that Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka met, all at different stages of their careers. Here's a look back at how their rivalry has panned out so far.
2019 Wuhan QF:  Sabalenka d. [WC] Rybakina 6-3, 1-6, 6-1
This clash pitted an established top player against a surging rookie. 2019 was the year of a 20-year-old Rybakina's tour breakthrough. In the two months ahead of this match, she had rocketed from outside the Top 100 to a Top 50 debut after winning her first title in Bucharest and reaching a second final in Nanchang. She received a wild card for Wuhan, her 12th tour-level main draw and first at WTA 1000 level. Rybakina had defeated Ons Jabeur in the second round before advancing past Simona Halep via retirement in the third.
Sabalenka was the defending champion and searching to rediscover the previous year's form after a number of early-round losses over the summer. Straight-sets wins over Danielle Collins and Kiki Bertens had been promising. Though Rybakina was the first player to take a set off Sabalenka this week, Sabalenka pulled through and went on to successfully defend her title.
"She broke my serve, and I started to [get] nervous a little bit," Sabalenka said after their match. "I was just like overhitting the ball. She just block it. Doesn't hurt her that much. I wasn't going for bigger targets, maybe. The third set, I was trying to move her a little bit more, don't give her that much time, just move her from side to side a little bit quicker."
2021 Abu Dhabi QF:  Sabalenka d.  Rybakina 6-4, 4-6, 6-3
By the start of 2021, Rybakina had established herself in the Top 20. But her momentum in early 2020 had been halted by the Covid-19 shutdown, and she has been open about struggling to rediscover it. She had ended 2020 on a three-match losing streak but had righted the ship somewhat at the start of a new season to reach the inaugural Abu Dhabi quarterfinals.
By contrast, Sabalenka was in the middle of a career-best 15-match winning streak. She had ended 2020 with consecutive titles in Ostrava and Linz and carried that form over into 2021 to win a third tournament in a row in Abu Dhabi -- the start of a phenomenal season in which she finished as World No.2. Rybakina was the only player to take a set from Sabalenka this week, in a match we called "a clinic in first-strike tennis".
2021 Wimbledon R4:  Sabalenka d.  Rybakina 6-3, 4-6, 6-3
The pressure was all on Sabalenka at Wimbledon 2021. She had maintained her Abu Dhabi form through the first half of the season, winning the Madrid title and rising to a career-high of No.4. But she had yet to make a Grand Slam quarterfinal. Sabalenka received the No.2 seeding because of absences from both Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep. At Roland Garros the previous month, Sabalenka had crashed out in the third round to eventual runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Rybakina was coming off her own Grand Slam breakthrough. She had made the second week of a major for the first time in Paris and marked it with a statement win over Serena Williams to reach the quarterfinals. Remarkably, it was the No.18 seed's Wimbledon main-draw debut. She had fallen in qualifying in 2019 to Varvara Flink (the tournament was not held in 2020).
In the event, Sabalenka passed this stern test, winning the last 12 points of the match to reach a long-awaited milestone.
2023 Australian Open F:  Sabalenka d.  Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4
Two years on, Sabalenka was on a quest for another milestone that Rybakina had already achieved. She had won 11 WTA titles, including four at 1000 level, but a Grand Slam trophy remained elusive. Rybakina had captured her first major at Wimbledon the previous year.
Sabalenka came into the final on an 10-match and 20-set winning streak after victory at Adelaide 1 in the first week of the year. But Rybakina had taken down three consecutive Grand Slam champions -- Iga Swiatek, Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka -- to reach a second major final, and seemed poised to add to her trophy haul after snapping Sabalenka's set streak to take the opener.
But it was Sabalenka, bolstered by the improvements she had made to her serve and mentality, who responded to come through a high-quality encounter that remained nail-biting to the very end.