Rybakina says struggled under Sabalenka 'pressure' in final loss

Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka celebrates with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup after defeating Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina (R) in the women's singles final match on day thirteen of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on 28 January, 2023AFP

Elena Rybakina said she struggled with the "pressure" and aggression from Aryna Sabalenka in falling to defeat in the Australian Open final on Saturday.

The Russian-born Kazakh gave as good as she got over three pulsating sets at Melbourne Park before losing 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the face of some ferocious hitting from fifth seed Sabalenka.

Rybakina, who has one of the most potent serves in women's tennis and some of the fiercest groundstrokes, powered down nine aces and 31 winners over two hours and 28 minutes of punch and counter-punch.

But Sabalenka was unstoppable on Rod Laver Arena, the Belarusian juggernaut hitting back with 17 aces of her own and 51 winners, finally getting over the line on her fourth match point.

"I would say that not many girls can put me really under that sort of pressure," Rybakina, 23, told reporters.

"She has a great serve and she plays really aggressive. Her ball is coming very heavy.

"I just knew that I had to serve well. It's also pressure in the end, as soon as I have an opportunity, take it.

"Today I had some opportunities and didn't take. The match didn't go my way."

Wimbledon champion Rybakina has now failed to beat Sabalenka in all of their four meetings and admitted she needs to improve if she is to break her duck.

Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka (L) holding the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup smiles after victory against Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina (R) during the women's singles final on day thirteen of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on 28 January, 2023

"With Aryna now, the score is 0-4," Rybakina said. "I would say the most challenging for me now is to play against Aryna again and get a win.

"Against a powerful player like her, I need to play more to improve."

Rybakina will have the consolation of breaking into the top 10 for the first time, after reaching her second Grand Slam final in seven months.

She was awarded no ranking points for her Wimbledon win because of the ban on Russian and Belarusian players there.

"I don't think tomorrow I'm going to feel different just because of the ranking now," said Rybakina, who is projected to rise to 10th from her current 25th on Monday when the new rankings are published.

"But, I mean, for sure it's going to be different in the smaller tournaments. I'm going to be seeded and maybe in some tournaments I'm not going to play first round, so of course there is some benefits."