The glamorous photo shoot the day after her biggest triumph was to Aryna Sabalenka’s taste. The extroverted tennis player posed in the strikingly decorated pink dress and blue high-heeled shoes in the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, always close to her: the silver cup for the Grand Slam tournament victory at the Australian Open.

“I like posing – especially as a Grand Slam champion. It’s the best morning of my life,” said the Belarusian, beaming with joy: “I still feel like I’m on another planet.”

The fact that her name was engraved on the trophy but not that of her home country Belarus next to it hardly diminished Sabalenka’s joy. Before the hard court tournament in Melbourne, she had said that she felt as a neutral athlete, as if she came “from nowhere”. But after two intoxicating weeks of success with the happy ending in the exciting finale, none of that mattered anymore.

Statement against the war

“I think everyone remembers that I’m a Belarusian player,” she said after beating Kazakh Wimbledon winner Jelena Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the top-class final. Because of the war of aggression in Ukraine, Sabalenka, like all Belarusian and Russian athletes, was only allowed to play under a neutral flag after they even missed Wimbledon six months ago. That was “terrible,” she said at the end of December, “because nobody supports the war, nobody.”

But the 24-year-old didn’t want to let feelings like satisfaction or even revenge spoil her mood. Sabalenka held the trophy in her arms like a baby. The permanent grin never left her face after the big victory, which was also one over herself. She wanted to reward herself with “good pizza” and “a lot of sweets,” “and maybe a little champagne,” said Sabalenka at the press conference. Sipping on a glass of the sparkling liquor, she quipped, “That’s a good one, that’s going to be fun.”

Extreme dominance

The first Grand Slam tournament of the year ended with a worthy winner. From her total of 524 points, the extremely dominant Sabalenka scored 247 with direct winning strokes. In the gripping finale, she was not upset by the lost first set, in which she revealed a weak serve that she thought she had overcome long ago. In the past, her emotions often guided her, now it’s the other way around. “Every time I’ve had a difficult moment on the pitch, I’ve reminded myself that I’m good enough to solve it all.”

In addition to the first major title and the prize money of around 1.95 million euros, Sabalenka can also look forward to climbing to second place in the world rankings. Now she wants to oust the leading Iga Swiatek from Poland. Winning a major tournament is “not the last goal on my list,” announced Sabalenka. But she wants to enjoy the moment in the coming days – in her adopted home of Miami, not in Belarus.

Russian-born Rybakina, who has been playing for Kazakhstan since 2018, also played well in the final match. “What a great final!” enthused national coach Barbara Rittner at Eurosport: “This is the tennis of the future: hard baseline strokes, initiative, great serves.”