On this day in 2020, Sofia Kenin won the Australian Open women’s singles title with a 4-6 6-2 6-2 victory against Garbine Muguruza.

The then-21-year-old American had never previously played beyond the fourth round of a grand slam and became the youngest winner of the title since Maria Sharapova in 2008.

She also followed in the footsteps of Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty and Bianca Andreescu, who all won their first slam finals in brilliant fashion in the previous 18 months.

Kenin’s emotions showed at various points during the deciding set and she dropped her racket and covered her face with her hands in disbelief when Muguruza’s second serve landed long on match point.

“These past two weeks, there have been a lot of emotions,” she said post-match.

“You guys could see after the match how much it all meant to me.

“This is such an honour. I’m so proud of myself, my dad, my team, everyone that has been around me. We’ve all worked hard. We’ve been through tough times. We did it. We fought. I’m just on cloud nine.”

Kenin followed up her Australian Open victory by reaching the final of the French Open later that year in October, but was beaten by Iga Swiatek.

Jannik Sinner became tennis’ newest grand slam champion at the Australian Open while Aryna Sabalenka successfully defended her title.

The year’s first grand slam brought plenty of long matches and late nights and set the tone for an intriguing season to come.

Here, the PA news agency picks out five things we learned at Melbourne Park.

Changing of the guard

The shifting sands of the sport have moved extremely slowly over the last decade, but there is no doubt change is here – and more is on the way. No one will be writing off Novak Djokovic after one off-colour tournament – he still reached the semi-finals despite being nowhere near his best – but power is moving towards the youngest generation, led by Carlos Alcaraz and now Sinner. Rafael Nadal’s comeback adds extra intrigue heading towards the French Open.

Sabalenka setting the standard

Iga Swiatek remains world number one but not by much and, based on the last five slams, Sabalenka can lay claim to be the best across all surfaces. While Swiatek will be favoured to sweep all before her on clay again, she has work to do to prove she can be a consistent force on hard courts and grass. Sabalenka was awesome in Melbourne, never dropping a set and maintaining a sense of emotional calm that the rest of the locker room would have observed with some trepidation.

New Norrie

Cameron Norrie has been Britain’s Mr Dependable over the last three years, using his physical and mental prowess to battle his way into the top 10. But in Melbourne the 28-year-old showed a whole new attacking side to his game that was a joy to watch. Norrie pulled off the best slam victory of his career over Casper Ruud in the third round and pushed Alexander Zverev all the way to a deciding tie-break before bowing out. If he continues on the same path, he can put himself right in the mix at the biggest tournaments.

Raducanu back on track

Emma Raducanu may only have made the second round of her comeback slam before a tight loss to Wang Yafan but the signs were very encouraging. The 21-year-old played with conviction, looked good physically barring an unfortunate stomach bug and, most encouragingly, appeared happy and excited to be back on tour. It will take Raducanu time to find her level but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, especially if she sticks with new coach Nick Cavaday for a sustained period.

Late night addiction

Tournament director Craig Tiley’s claim that extending the event to 15 days would somehow fix the problem of matches going late into the night was always farcical, and so it proved. Even only having two matches in the day session did not guarantee the night session began on time, and Daniil Medvedev’s second-round clash with Emil Ruusuvuori did not finish until 3.39am. Until tennis accepts that matches are becoming ever longer and schedules accordingly, nothing will change.

“Special” Jannik Sinner is ready to lead tennis’ youth revolution alongside Carlos Alcaraz, according to his coach Darren Cahill.

Sinner’s comeback victory against Daniil Medvedev in the Australian Open final gave him a first grand slam title and appears a sign of things to come.

The 22-year-old has followed in the wake of Carlos Alcaraz, who is two years younger, and between them they have now won three of the last six slams, with Novak Djokovic winning the rest.

The Serbian will be 37 in May and, while writing him off would be extremely premature, there is no doubt the hierarchy is changing.

Cahill said: “I think this sport at the moment has a few superstars. I think Carlos is very similar to Jannik in both the way they play with the excitement level they bring to the game, and their personalities and their likability.

“Both guys are incredibly alike off the court. They both like each other. They have a friendly rivalry. They both light it up when they play each other. I don’t think any of their matches have ever been boring.

“I think we have some really good personalities in the game at the moment, and it’s important they keep winning. It’s important they do what Jannik was able to do, and that’s to show a side of this young generation that are going to fight until the very end.”

He continued: “They really want to make a name for themselves, and Jannik did that. Carlos has done that already a couple of times, the match he played at Wimbledon to beat Novak was just a special performance.

“Our job now is just to make sure that we keep him pumped up. It’s a long year, and it’s important to enjoy the moment, but when we get back onto the tennis court, we will try to keep him in that good mindset and try to keep him winning.”

Alcaraz became a slam champion as a teenager in New York before stunning Djokovic in five sets at Wimbledon last summer.

Sinner’s path has been more gradual and Cahill, who previously worked with the likes of Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Agassi and Simona Halep, has no doubt Alcaraz’s success has inspired his man.

“Hell, yeah, absolutely,” he said with a smile. “There’s no question seeing the young players come through and having success drives each and every one of them. Not just Jannik. They all desire it.

“Carlos has trailblazed for a lot of young players. We’re thankful for that. He’s a delight to watch play, and a delight to watch him on court. We aspire to be as good as him and hopefully one day be better than him but, at the moment we’re chasing Carlos, and we’ll continue to do that.”

Sinner, who hails from the north of Italy and was a champion skier as a child, split from long-term coach Riccardo Piatti in the summer of 2022 and hired renowned Australian Cahill and countryman Simone Vagnozzi.

The combination is certainly working, and Cahill added: “We believe in Jannik, we always have. He’s a special young kid. Even the way he hits the ball, it just sounds special.

“When you hit the ball the way he does, when you want to improve the way he does, when you move the way he does, he’s going to have success at some point.

“Our job as coaches is to try to fast track that as quickly as possible and get him to where he wants to go quickly so he can have a long window at the top of the game.

“He’s been doing well. He’s absorbing everything and trying new things on the court, and he just wants to get better. I’m sure after this sinks in he won’t settle. He’ll never settle.”

Sinner is popular with his peers, who have long known the explosive power contained in his wiry frame.

Speaking on Eurosport, Australian star Nick Kyrgios said: “Jannik is an incredibly nice guy in the locker room. You always see him super professional, but he’s like a sponge.

“Ever since he came on tour that first match he played against Steve Johnson in Rome, the locker room was watching and thinking, ‘Who is this skinny guy who has the crowd in the palm of his hand?’. We could already see the ball-striking.

“This is going to be such a big leapfrog to him, I think we’re going to see him win plenty more slams in the next couple of years. Now he’s got this one, he’s going to be unstoppable.”

Jannik Sinner became tennis’ newest grand slam champion at the Australian Open while Aryna Sabalenka successfully defended her title.

The year’s first grand slam brought plenty of long matches and late nights and set the tone for an intriguing season to come.

Here, the PA news agency picks out five things we learned at Melbourne Park.

Changing of the guard

The shifting sands of the sport have moved extremely slowly over the last decade, but there is no doubt change is here – and more is on the way. No one will be writing off Novak Djokovic after one off-colour tournament – he still reached the semi-finals despite being nowhere near his best – but power is moving towards the youngest generation, led by Carlos Alcaraz and now Sinner. Rafael Nadal’s comeback adds extra intrigue heading towards the French Open.

Sabalenka setting the standard

Iga Swiatek remains world number one but not by much and, based on the last five slams, Sabalenka can lay claim to be the best across all surfaces. While Swiatek will be favoured to sweep all before her on clay again, she has work to do to prove she can be a consistent force on hard courts and grass. Sabalenka was awesome in Melbourne, never dropping a set and maintaining a sense of emotional calm that the rest of the locker room would have observed with some trepidation.

New Norrie

Cameron Norrie has been Britain’s Mr Dependable over the last three years, using his physical and mental prowess to battle his way into the top 10. But in Melbourne the 28-year-old showed a whole new attacking side to his game that was a joy to watch. Norrie pulled off the best slam victory of his career over Casper Ruud in the third round and pushed Alexander Zverev all the way to a deciding tie-break before bowing out. If he continues on the same path, he can put himself right in the mix at the biggest tournaments.

Raducanu back on track

Emma Raducanu may only have made the second round of her comeback slam before a tight loss to Wang Yafan but the signs were very encouraging. The 21-year-old played with conviction, looked good physically barring an unfortunate stomach bug and, most encouragingly, appeared happy and excited to be back on tour. It will take Raducanu time to find her level but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, especially if she sticks with new coach Nick Cavaday for a sustained period.

Late night addiction

Tournament director Craig Tiley’s claim that extending the event to 15 days would somehow fix the problem of matches going late into the night was always farcical, and so it proved. Even only having two matches in the day session did not guarantee the night session began on time, and Daniil Medvedev’s second-round clash with Emil Ruusuvuori did not finish until 3.39am. Until tennis accepts that matches are becoming ever longer and schedules accordingly, nothing will change.

Jannik Sinner proved himself a man for the big occasion with a stunning comeback against Daniil Medvedev to lift his first grand slam trophy at the Australian Open.

The 22-year-old Italian handed Novak Djokovic his first loss at Melbourne Park for six years in the semi-finals but looked like he would have to settle for the runners-up plate as Medvedev dominated the first half of the match.

Sinner was not finished, though, and he slowly began to take control with his huge groundstrokes, opening his grand slam account in brilliant fashion with a 3-6 3-6 6-4 6-4 6-3 victory.

Earmarked as the man most likely to lead the game into its next era alongside Carlos Alcaraz, Sinner, who beat three of the top five seeds in successive matches, has decisively shown that he can be a force for years to come.

He is the first Italian to win the singles title in Melbourne and the first man at any grand slam since Adriano Panatta at the French Open in 1976.

“It means a lot, maybe the most important thing,” said Sinner, who led Italy to the Davis Cup title in November.

“There is always pressure, but the pressure is something good. I like to dance in the pressure storm. Because that’s where most of the time I bring out my best tennis.

“I still have to process it because, beating Novak in the semis and then today Daniil in the final, they are tough players to beat.

“So it’s a great moment for me and my team but, in the other way, we also know that we have to improve if we want to have another chance to hold a big trophy again.”

Sinner is the youngest winner of the men’s title since since Djokovic back in 2008, but he is mature beyond his years on and off the court.

In his acceptance speech, Sinner, who was a champion skier as a child, movingly thanked his parents for allowing him to choose his own path.

“I don’t see them so often, unfortunately, but when I see them it’s always a great time,” he said with a smile in his press conference.

“I went away from home when I was 14 years old. So I had to grow up quite fast, trying to cook for myself, trying to make laundry.

“I think for me it was tough but, for my parents, to leave their son at 14 years old, it’s also not easy. They never put pressure on myself, which for me is maybe the key why I’m here today. I’m a quite relaxed man, who just enjoys to play tennis.”

It had been almost 20 years since an Australian Open final did not feature one of Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer.

Medvedev had the benefit of experience playing in his sixth grand slam final, while for the first time he did not see either Djokovic or Nadal across the other side of the net.

The Russian had endured a tortuous route to the final, though, with three five-set matches, two of them from two sets down, and more than 20 hours spent on court.

His solution was to go against type and begin in ultra aggressive fashion, which brought immediate dividends with an early break of the Sinner serve.

The Italian had not faced a single break point against Djokovic but here he could not keep Medvedev at bay, the third seed, who won his only slam title so far at the US Open in 2021, opening up a 5-1 lead in the second set.

Sinner retrieved one of the breaks and, although he could not quite turn the set around, it was a sign of things to come and, as Medvedev tired, the young Italian began to get on the front foot, breaking in the 10th game of both the third and fourth sets.

Heading into the decider he was a clear favourite once more and, after breaking to lead 4-2, he sealed his big moment in fitting fashion with a forehand winner blasted down the line.

Sinner admitted Medvedev had taken him by surprise with his approach, saying: “I was expecting something different from his side, so I had this feeling that he might come out a little bit more aggressive. Not this aggressive.

It was a cruel way to lose for Medvedev, who was also beaten from two sets up by Nadal in the final two years ago and was hoping to make it third time lucky in Melbourne.

But the 27-year-old refused to be too downhearted, saying: “I was trying to be proud of myself, and I am. I was fighting, I was running. I was, like, ‘If tomorrow I don’t feel my legs, it doesn’t matter, I’m going to try everything I can today until the last point’, and I did it.”

No one has ever spent longer on court at a grand slam, to which Medvedev reacted with a wry smile: “At least I got a record in something.”

Jannik Sinner clinched his first grand slam title in dramatic fashion by coming from two sets to love down to beat Daniil Medvedev.

The 22-year-old Italian followed up his victory over Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals by quelling a fast start by Medvedev to win 3-6 3-6 6-4 6-4 6-3.

He is the youngest Australian Open champion since Djokovic in 2008 and the first Italian man to win a major singles trophy since Adriano Panatta at the French Open in 1976.

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While Sinner and Medvedev battled it out on Rod Laver, Katie Boulter was among those preparing for the WTA tournament in Linz, which starts on Monday.

Roll of honour

Women’s singles: Aryna Sabalenka (Belarus)
Men’s singles: Jannik Sinner (Italy)
Women’s doubles: Hsieh Su-wei (Chinese Taipei) and Elise Mertens (Belgium)
Men’s doubles: Rohan Bopanna (India) and Matt Ebden (Australia)
Mixed doubles: Hsieh Su-wei (Chinese Taipei) and Jan Zielinski (Poland)
Girls’ singles: Renata Jamrichova (Slovakia)
Boys’ singles: Rei Sakamoto (Japan)
Girls’ doubles: Tyra Grant and Iva Jovic (USA)
Boys’ doubles: Maxwell Exsted and Cooper Woestendick (USA)
Men’s wheelchair singles: Tokito Oda (Japan)
Women’s wheelchair singles: Diede De Groot (Netherlands)
Men’s wheelchair doubles: Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid (Great Britain)
Women’s wheelchair doubles: Diede De Groot and Jiske Griffioen (Netherlands)
Quad wheelchair singles: Sam Schroder (Netherlands)
Quad wheelchair doubles: Andy Lapthorne (Great Britain) and David Wagner (USA)

Jannik Sinner staged a brilliant fightback from two sets down to defeat Daniil Medvedev and win his first grand slam title at the Australian Open.

The 22-year-old Italian handed Novak Djokovic his first loss at Melbourne Park for six years in the semi-finals but looked like he would have to settle for the runners-up plate as Medvedev dominated the first half of the match.

Sinner was not finished, though, and he slowly began to take control with his huge groundstrokes, opening his grand slam account in stunning fashion with a 3-6 3-6 6-4 6-4 6-3 victory.

Earmarked as the man most likely to lead the game into its next era alongside Carlos Alcaraz, Sinner has decisively proved that he can be a force for years to come.

For Medvedev, though, this is a crushing blow, with the Russian now having won only one of six grand slam finals – at the US Open in 2021 – while this is the second time in three years he has led by two sets to love here only to lose.

The first of those came against Rafael Nadal in 2022 but, even without the Spaniard or Djokovic across the net in a final for the first time, he still could not claim the trophy.

It had been a tortuous path to get here for Medvedev, who recovered from two sets down to win against Emil Ruusuvuori at 3.39am in round two and Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals, while also needing five sets to defeat Hubert Hurkacz in the last eight, spending more than 20 hours on court.

It had been almost 20 years since an Australian Open final did not feature one of Djokovic, Nadal or Roger Federer.

Sinner’s victory over Djokovic was a breakthrough moment for the 22-year-old but Medvedev immediately set about showing him that, for once, he carried the advantage of experience and knew just how to handle the occasion.

The Russian’s usual tactics involve standing several metres behind the baseline and using his long levers to form the human equivalent of a brick wall.

But here, whether necessitated by fatigue, a tactical switch or a combination of the two, Medvedev stepped straight in and began swinging.

Sinner had not faced a single break point against Djokovic, a first for the out-of-sorts Serbian in his grand slam career, but here he found himself 0-40 down in only his second service game, and Medvedev took his second chance.

Having lost his first six matches against the Russian, Sinner beat him three times in quick succession at the end of last season and went into the contest as the favourite having dropped only one set all fortnight.

He could not find a foothold in the match, though, Medvedev striking his groundstrokes with such crisp precision that Sinner, normally one of the most aggressive players in the game, was left scrambling to stay in rallies.

He got the crowd involved in the second game of the second set, saving four break points with some stellar defence, but Medvedev simply came at Sinner again and broke twice in succession to lead 5-1.

At last there were signs of life from the Italian when Medvedev served for the set, Sinner breaking back and then threatening to get on terms only to net a forehand on break point.

It offered Sinner some hope, though, and an even third set went his way when he forced a break of the Medvedev serve at 5-4, upping the pace on his groundstrokes and finally managing to hurt his opponent.

Medvedev had the scar tissue from the loss to Nadal two years ago in his mind and 23 hours of tennis in his legs, and he called the trainer for attention to his right foot after three games of the fourth set.

It was now very much Sinner forcing the pace, although a saved break point at 3-3 was a huge moment, and even more so when the fourth seed again found the breakthrough in the 10th game with huge hitting.

Medvedev headed off court to change but, having taken a long break at the end of the third set, he was not permitted extra time and was given a time violation for not being ready to start the deciding set.

Sinner knew this was his for the taking, and take it he did breaking for 4-2 before clinching the biggest win of his life in fitting fashion with a forehand winner down the line.

Aryna Sabalenka believes she can bring her Australian Open dominance to other grand slams after lifting a second successive title in Melbourne.

The Belarusian will stay world number two behind Iga Swiatek but that could well change this year if Sabalenka can maintain her impressive consistency at the majors.

In the last five slams, Sabalenka has won two titles, reached another final on hard courts at the US Open and never lost before the semi-finals, while Swiatek’s only run to the last four saw her retain her French Open title.

Getting the better of Swiatek at Roland Garros is likely to be Sabalenka’s biggest challenge but she certainly has the game for grass and, with more composure, could have reached all four finals last year.

“I think last year I proved that I can play on each surface,” said the 25-year-old. “I think those two semi-finals I got super emotional.

“I played against incredible players, and they just played an unbelievable level, but I felt like I got super emotional and I just let those semis go away.

“But I definitely think that if I’m going to keep working like I’m working right now, and if we’re going to keep building what we are building right now, I’m definitely able to do the same on the clay and on the grass.

“So then I’ll just keep working hard and hopefully this year I’ll achieve the same goal.”

It was a statement fortnight from Sabalenka, who did not drop a set through seven matches, with only Coco Gauff in the semi-finals taking more than five games off her.

Speaking on Eurosport, former British number one Laura Robson said: “To deliver that kind of performance across the two weeks, getting better and better, I feel like the rest of the players in the locker room are thinking ‘uh oh’ for the rest of the season.”

There is certainly no sign of Sabalenka being happy with two titles, and the calm manner with which she demolished the rest of the field will give her rivals plenty of pause for thought.

She is now two slam titles behind Swiatek, and was relieved to escape the box of one-slam wonder.

“Actually it’s been in my mind that I didn’t want to be that player who won it and then disappeared,” she said.

“I just wanted to show that I’m able to be consistently there and I’m able to win another one. I really hope that (it will be) more than two, but for me it was really important.”

Sabalenka’s ambitions are shared by her coaches, with fitness trainer Jason Stacy, saying: “We’re the coaches in our different areas but during the match and straight after the match, we’re already talking about the things we need to work on.”

Stacy has been walking around Melbourne Park with Sabalenka’s signature written in pen by the world number two on his bald head.

It is part of the team’s efforts to keep things light and fun off court, although Stacy is ready to draw the line at the next suggestion.

“It might get worse actually,” he said. “Now they’re trying to say I’ve got to get a tattoo of this on my head. I’m like, ‘I don’t know about that’. Every tournament we always find some thing we’re doing and we just kind of go with that.”

Aryna Sabalenka’s ruthless defence of her Australian Open title was powered by a sense of fun and new-found inner calm.

The world number two lifted her first grand slam trophy at Melbourne Park 12 months ago and has been untouchable this fortnight.

She did not drop a set in seven matches and defeated first-time grand slam finalist Zheng Qinwen 6-3 6-2 to become the first player since compatriot Victoria Azarenka 11 years ago to claim back-to-back titles.

“I don’t know how to describe my emotions,” said Sabalenka. “But definitely I’m super, super happy and proud of everything I was able to achieve so far. I’m just happy with the level I played today.”

Zheng, who did not face a top-50 player through the first six rounds, had hoped to emulate the watching Li Na and claim the title for China a decade on.

But the 21-year-old, the 12th first-time slam finalist in the women’s game in the last three years, was up against it from the start and Sabalenka wrapped up victory in only 76 minutes despite a brief disruption from pro-Palestine protesters.

Sabalenka has ridden emotional highs and lows throughout her career, overcoming the yips on her serve two years ago and several bruising semi-final losses before she reached her first final 12 months ago.

She showed tremendous consistency at the slams last year, reaching at least the last four in each one, but there were still crushing defeats in big matches, most painfully in the US Open final against Coco Gauff, after which Sabalenka was seen backstage smashing her rackets.

But in Melbourne this year the 25-year-old has been flawless, with her only testing match coming in the semi-finals against Gauff and resulting in a cathartic victory.

“I think it’s all come with experience,” she said. “There is not going to be big wins without really tough losses. Of course I was very down after those matches. I was crying, I was smashing the racket, as we see. I was really crazy.

“But then, after a day or two, we sit down with the team, thinking, ‘OK, what do we have to do to fix it and to make sure this will never happen again’.”

Sabalenka’s ferocity on court is at odds with her fun-loving persona off it, and her team can often be seen joking around behind the scenes, while a tradition this year was for the Belarusian to write her signature on her fitness trainer Jason Stacy’s bald head.

Helping her find an emotional equilibrium during matches has been a lengthy process, with Stacy saying: “That’s been the plan for years. First making her more aware of what’s happening.

“It’s been a big part. She’s just hiding it really well, and it’s not guaranteed it’s going to be that way every week. But that’s what makes her so dangerous and so powerful as well that part of her. It’s beautiful.”

Sabalenka said with a smile: “It’s actually good that I’m two different people on and off the court, because if I would be the same person that I am on the court off the court, I think I wouldn’t have my team around me and I think I would be alone.

“It takes me so much time to become who I am right now on court, to have this control of myself, and to understand myself better.”

Sabalenka seized control of the match from the start, opening up a 3-0 lead before Zheng gained a foothold courtesy of some impressive serving.

Three double faults in one game was a disastrous start to the second set, though, and even four missed match points could not derail Sabalenka.

Zheng, who will break into the top 10 for the first time on Monday, was disappointed with her performance, saying: “To play against her I think it’s so important to hold your own service game. But I couldn’t do that, especially at the beginning.

“I didn’t perform my best. That’s really a pity for me because I really wanted to show better than that.”

Sabalenka used her acceptance speech to thank her family, and a second slam title fulfilled the dream she shared with her late father Sergey, who died in 2019.

“It was really important,” she said. “Of course he’s my biggest motivation. He’s been everything for me.

“But right now I have my mom, my sister, who is here with me, and I feel like I have to think about them. But I just feel that he’s always with me. I’m very thankful for everything he did for me, and I think if not him I wouldn’t be here.

“Now, having two grand slam titles, it definitely gives me more confidence and belief in myself. I just have this, knowing that all my life it wasn’t a waste of time and I was doing the right thing. I’m where I’m meant to be.”

Aryna Sabalenka defeated Zheng Qinwen to make it back-to-back titles at the Australian Open.

The second seed did not drop a set all fortnight, beating first-time major finalist Zheng 6-3 6-2 to become the first woman since fellow Belarusian Victoria Azarenka in 2013 to successfully defend the trophy.

Britain’s Alfie Hewett was unable to match Sabalenka, losing 6-2 6-4 to Tokito Oda in the men’s wheelchair final.

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The tournament will crown a first time Australian Open champion in the men’s singles on Sunday night.

After stunning Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals, 22-year-old fourth seed Jannik Sinner goes into his first grand slam decider as the favourite.

There he will take on third seed Daniil Medvedev, who has survived three five-set matches and will hope to make it third time lucky having finished as runner-up in 2021 and 2022.

Aryna Sabalenka completed a ruthless defence of her Australian Open title by beating first-timer Zheng Qinwen in the final.

The world number two lifted her first grand-slam trophy at Melbourne Park 12 months ago and has been untouchable this fortnight.

She did not drop a set in seven matches and defeated Zheng 6-3 6-2 to become the first player since countrywoman Victoria Azarenka 11 years ago to claim back-to-back titles.

Zheng, who had not had to face a top-50 player through the first six rounds, had hoped to emulate the watching Li Na and claim the title for China a decade on.

But the 21-year-old, the 12th first-time slam finalist in the women’s game in the last three years, was up against it from the start and Sabalenka wrapped up victory in only 76 minutes despite a brief disruption from pro-Palestine protesters.

Zheng was the first player this century to reach a slam final without facing a seeded opponent, and the low rankings of her opponents made this a huge step up.

Early nerves were evident and Sabalenka set straight about seizing on the Zheng serve, breaking for 2-0 and then holding from 0-40 in another statement of intent.

Zheng has struggled with the consistency of her serve this tournament but, when she has made the first delivery, it has been very effective, and two aces helped her get on the board in the fourth game.

The Chinese fans in the crowd were making their presence felt but, while Zheng came up with more big serving to save three set points at 5-2, Sabalenka finished it off decisively on her own delivery.

The Belarusian has ridden emotional highs and lows throughout her career, and her stellar 2023 could have brought her more than one slam title had she not wobbled in defeats by Karolina Muchova, Ons Jabeur and Coco Gauff.

The latter came in the US Open final after Sabalenka had dominated the first set, but here she has been steely on and off court, claiming a cathartic win over Gauff in the semi-finals.

Zheng had won just five games in their only previous meeting in the quarter-finals in New York last summer, and her hopes of doing better were hit by a disastrous start to the second set, serving three double faults in the opening game.

With Zheng trying to hold in the third game, the match was briefly delayed when two spectators held up a Palestinian flag in the stands and shouted until they were hauled away by security to cheers from the remaining fans.

Zheng kept her composure to get on the board but her serve had really dropped off and Sabalenka broke again to lead 4-1.

Zheng managed some brief late resistance, saving four match points, but Sabalenka crunched a forehand winner on her fifth chance before thrusting her arms into the air.

Marathon man Daniil Medvedev hopes experience can be his trump card against Jannik Sinner in the Australian Open final.

Sinner is through to his first grand-slam showpiece after stunning Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals while this will be a sixth shot at a major trophy for Medvedev.

The Russian won his only title at the US Open in 2021, losing twice more in New York and twice here, in 2021 and 2022, with all his finals so far pitting him against either Djokovic or Rafael Nadal.

In Melbourne two years ago, Medvedev led Nadal by two sets to love only to lose in five, but that has been his trick this year, with the third seed coming from two sets down to beat Emil Ruusuvuori in the second round and Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals.

He also played a five-setter against Hubert Hurkacz in the last eight and has spent more than 20 hours on court in his six matches, nearly six hours longer than Sinner, whose only dropped set came against Djokovic.

The Italian has carried his superb form from the end of last season into 2024 but a first slam final always presents its own challenges, and Medvedev said: “I hope it gives (me an advantage), because I hope to have some advantage.

“Physical advantage I probably don’t have. Tennis advantage, let’s see. But three last times he got me. So I hope that this experience can help me.

“First final, I think it’s always different for everyone. I’m sure some guys went out in the first final and felt so good they just managed to win it. Some would go and it would be tough mentally and they would lose.

“I have no idea how Jannik is going to be, but I have this experience. I will try my best. I will fight for my life, and let’s see who wins.”

Medvedev is one of the quirkiest characters on tour and he has had a love-hate relationship with crowds around the world, but a personal vow to behave better on court seems to be paying dividends.

“Mentally 100 per cent I’m stronger than I was before this tournament because now I know that I’m capable of some things maybe I thought I’m not, because before I didn’t do anything like this to get to the final,” said the 27-year-old.

His long-time coach Gilles Cervara, who has been known to walk out of matches over his charge’s behaviour, has seen it all.

“I know that, no matter what, he’s searching for a solution all the time,” said Cervara. “Also he wants to win so much. So both of these parts makes me feel that he still has a chance in any situation.

“Sometimes when I ask him some questions about his game on court, about what he put his concentration into or, when he misses, what he could do, and the answer he gives me makes me feel like, ‘Wow, I’m talking to the number three in the world, he was number one, he won a grand slam, and I have the feeling that I’m talking to a teenager’.”

This will be a 10th meeting between Medvedev and Sinner, with the Russian winning the first six but then losing three times in a row late last season, when Sinner won titles in Beijing and Vienna, reached the final of the ATP Finals and led Italy to the Davis Cup.

Hailing from the north of the country, the 22-year-old was a champion skier as a child before committing to tennis.

His huge groundstrokes marked him out as a special talent but it is since switching to the coaching team of Simone Vagnozzi and renowned Australian Darren Cahill in 2022 that he has climbed to the top of the game.

Cahill, who has previously worked with the likes of Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Agassi and Simona Halep, said of Sinner: “He’s got the qualities I believe that a lot of the great champions in the game have, but you’ve got to start winning to let that come to fruition.

“So he’s making little steps. He had a good finish to the year last year. He gained a lot of belief from what he was able to do.”

Ten years after watching Li Na win the Australian Open title, Zheng Qinwen has a first grand slam crown in her sights.

The 21-year-old is the first Chinese player since trailblazer Li here in 2014 to make a grand slam final, where she will take on defending champion Aryna Sabalenka.

Zheng vividly remembers cheering on Li during her victory over Dominika Cibulkova as an 11-year-old alongside her tennis team-mates.

Three years earlier, Li had become the first Chinese grand slam singles champion at the French Open, and Zheng said: “She means a lot, I think, for all the Chinese kids the same age like me.

“Because I think she’s the first one who won the slams. That’s unbelievable for Asian woman in that moment. She gives a lot of hope, in that moment, to young kids like me.”

Zheng had the chance to meet Li, who is playing in the legends event, earlier this fortnight, with the 41-year-old telling her young countrywoman not to think too much.

Zheng, who will break into the top 10 on Monday, kept her nerve to come through a chaotic top half of the draw, with Sabalenka the first top-50 opponent she will face, and she said: “My dream is not just the final. I’m almost there but I know this little distance is still far away.”

 

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Extra motivation for the 21-year-old came last September when coach Wim Fissette ended their brief partnership to return to work with Naomi Osaka.

Zheng made her feelings known but linked back up with Spaniard Pere Riba, who first began coaching her as a 17-year-old.

He cannot speak highly enough of Zheng, saying: “I never see in my life a player with the work ethic that she has.

“The first week that we started to work, a long time ago, I say, ‘OK, 7am, and then we go to practise’. Then we practise a lot of hours. I say, next day the same, next day the same. I was thinking that after four or five days she’s going to say, ‘I’m tired’.

“Sometimes we are getting angry because she wants to do more and I have to stop her. You can imagine the dreams that Qinwen has, that she really wants to be there in the top, and I’m really, really happy for her because she deserves it.

“Still she is so young. She’s improving every single month and still has a lot of margin to improve. She arrived with very good feelings. She arrived really motivated. And, if she plays her game, she will have her chances.

“But, of course, all of us, we know Aryna and we know it’s going to be a really complicated match.”

The run is another feather in the cap of 35-year-old Riba, who during his break from working with Zheng was part of Coco Gauff’s coaching team for her US Open triumph last summer.

“I think that all experiences is helpful to you,” he said. “Me, I’m a humble guy and I’m trying to learn from everyone. The US Open was really an amazing moment. Of course this experience is helping here.”

Sabalenka was the player beaten by Gauff in New York but the Belarusian has put together an impressive sequence of slam results, reaching at least the semi-finals of six straight tournaments and now bidding for a second successive title here.

She turned the tables on Gauff in the last four and is yet to drop a set.

Known as a very emotional player, Sabalenka has maintained an impressively even keel so far, and she said: “I think I’m pretty calm inside like I am outside.

“I’m defending champion but, worst case, I’m going to lose this tournament and it’s less points to defend next year. That’s helping me to just stay focused and just try your best in each match without thinking about defending something.”

One bizarre superstition Sabalenka has maintained through the tournament is drawing her signature and other doodles on fitness coach Jason Stacy’s bald head.

“Our first day here, there was some kid wanted a ball signed,” Stacy said. “She’s, ‘Ah, no problem’. So she signed my head as a joke.

“Then every day it’s like a routine to sign my head. Non-match day, she just draws some random picture. They played tic-tac-toe on my head the other day. She won, by the way, so it’s good.

“Then on match day she just signs it and does random stuff. Just part of the process.”

Britain’s Neal Skupski missed out on a fourth grand slam title at the Australian Open.

The Liverpudlian reached the mixed doubles final with American Desirae Krawczyk but the pair, who won the Wimbledon title together in 2021 and 2022, lost out 6-7 (5) 6-4 11-9 to Chinese Taipei’s Hsieh Su-wei and Pole Jan Zielinski.

Skupski, who won his first men’s doubles title at Wimbledon last summer alongside Wesley Koolhof, and Krawczyk won the first set on a tie-break and led 4-2 in the second but lost in a deciding tie-break having held one match point.

There was a 19th grand slam title together in wheelchair doubles for Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid, who defeated Japanese duo Takuya Miki and Tokito Oda 6-3 6-2.

It is a fifth title in Melbourne in a row for the all-British duo, who were playing their second match of the day having won a rain-delayed semi-final earlier.

Reid said: “It’s not been easy, it never is easy to win any of them, because there is always strong teams that we’re coming up against. Obviously we’ve got a big target on our back as the guys who’ve been dominating recently.

“I think the numbers are sort of secondary to us. We enjoy them when we hear them afterwards, but for us really I think the key the last few years has been trying to push ourselves as a team, trying to progress the style of play that we bring to the court, and the way that we approach matches.”

Hewett will look to make it a double triumph when he takes on Oda in the singles final on Saturday.

There was also a 15th slam doubles title for Britain’s Andy Lapthorne in the quad division playing with American David Wagner, the pair beating South African Donald Ramphadi and Guy Sasson of Israel 6-4 3-6 (10/2).

Mingge Xu missed out on a place in the girls’ singles semi-finals, the Welsh player losing 6-4 6-3 to Bulgaria’s Iva Ivanova.

Xu and Hannah Klugman were also beaten in the semi-finals of the girls’ doubles, while Viktor Frydrych, playing with Czech Petr Brunclik, lost in the final of the boys’ doubles.

Novak Djokovic branded his defeat by Jannik Sinner to end his long unbeaten Australian Open run as one of the worst performances of his career.

The world number one’s 6-1 6-2 6-7 (6) 6-3 loss in the semi-finals was his first at Melbourne Park since a fourth-round defeat by Chung Hyeon in 2018, ending a 33-match streak taking in four titles.

Djokovic made 54 unforced errors, dropped serve five times and, for the first time in a completed grand slam match, did not create a single break point.

“First I want to congratulate Sinner for playing a great match, great tournament so far,” said the Serbian, who had been chasing a record 25th slam title and 11th here.

“He’s deservedly in the finals. He outplayed me completely today. I was, in a way, shocked with my level, in a bad way. There was not much I was doing right in the first two sets.

“I guess this is one of the worst grand slam matches I’ve ever played. At least that I remember. Not a very pleasant feeling playing this way.”

Sinner was seen as the most likely rival to stop Djokovic ahead of the tournament after beating him twice in two weeks at the end of last season at the ATP Finals and Davis Cup.

The 22-year-old moves through to a first grand slam final, becoming the first Italian to reach a singles decider here, and he regrouped impressively after missing a match point in the third-set tie-break.

“It was a tough match, especially when I lost the third set with match points,” said Sinner. “I just tried to stay as positive as possible, and it went my way today. I’m really happy.”

Djokovic struggled with illness at the start of the fortnight and had a tougher passage through to the last four than usual, losing three sets along the way.

But he is a master at pacing himself in best-of-five-sets tennis and finding his best when it matters so it was a shock to see him so off colour in the first two sets especially.

“The whole tournament I haven’t really played close to my best,” said Djokovic. “In a way it did surprise me, because I thought it won’t be that bad in the first two sets.

“But, on the other hand, I didn’t feel really myself on the court during this tournament. One can say semi-finals is a great result, of course, but I always expect the highest of myself.”

There is no doubt the hierarchy in men’s tennis is finally changing, with Sinner, who had not dropped a set prior to this match, now following up Carlos Alcaraz’s Wimbledon final victory over Djokovic with his own grand slam breakthrough.

The Italian is a much more understated character than his fellow young gun but he projects a quiet confidence that has grown noticeably in the last six months.

“I think you win the matches not only on that day,” he said. “You win it because you feel prepared for a good fight. You feel prepared mentally and also physically.

“I think after last year, especially the end of the year, it gave me confidence that I could potentially do some good results in grand slams. But you still have to show it. There are people who talk a lot, but you have to show it.

“But, if it’s not this year, it’s next year, and then if it’s not next year, it’s the next year again. I’m really relaxed. I just try to work as hard as possible and in my mind I feel like the hard work always pays off in one way, and we are working really hard for our dreams.

“Obviously I’m really happy about Carlos, what he has made and what he is doing. When we play it’s always a good match-up, but at the moment we also have to say that he is further than I am.”

Djokovic will turn 37 in May and, while no one will be writing him off, there is no doubt this is a big blow, with the Serbian having won the title on all 10 previous occasions on which he had reached the last four in Melbourne.

It also emphasises his incredible record here, with Djokovic saying: “I’m kind of hot-headed right now. After the match it’s very difficult to reflect on things in a more profound way.

“Maybe tomorrow, maybe in a few days’ time, but I definitely have a lot to be very proud of in terms of what I have achieved here. The streak was going to end one day.

“This has been a very special city, best, by far, grand slam of my career. I just hope that I’ll get a chance to come back, to play at least another time and go through the emotions once more.

“I still have high hopes for other slams, Olympics, and whatever tournaments that I’ll play. It’s just the beginning of the season.”

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