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Aryna Sabalenka thanks Billie Jean King after Australian Open win

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 28: Aryna Sabalenka poses with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup after winning the Women’s Singles Final match against Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan during day 13 of the 2023 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 28, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

Aryna Sabalenka won her first major on Saturday, taking home the Australian Open singles title.

While she had won doubles twice, she had never reached a final in a singles tournament, let alone won.

After going down 4-6 in the first set to Elena Rybakina, Sabalenka rebounded in the next two sets 6-3, 6-4 to take the comeback victory. With the win, she’ll rise to No. 2 in the world rankings on Monday.

“The last game, yeah, of course, I was a little bit nervous. I (kept) telling myself, like, ’Nobody tells you that it’s going to be easy.′ You just have to work for it, work for it, ’til the last point,” said Sabalenka. “I’m super happy that I was able to handle all those emotions and win this one.”

She was presented the trophy by Billie Jean King, who called the match “thrilling.”

“Both Sabalenka and Rybakina played so well,” she wrote in a social media post. “Honored to present Aryna with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.”

Earlier this week, King spoke out in support of Belrusian and Russian players, who have been banned from using their country’s name or flag by the WTA.

“Just keep it the same way as the other ones are. Life is too short,” she said when asked about the bans. “I think they should get prize money. Just have them play and get their money. It’s the ranking points, for sure. They have to have it.

“Rybakina, they’ve seeded her 25th, but because she won Wimbledon, she’s not [seeded higher]. We are a platform to have discussions on this, though, just like you’re asking. I think it’s important. The WTA was started for that, so we’d all have one voice, too, to help protect players.”

While Sabalenka spoke plenty with reporters after the match, her first words as a Grand Slam champion were directed at King, with Sabalenka thanking the tennis legend.

“It’s such an inspiration to receive the trophy from you,” she said. “Thank you so much for everything you’ve done for our sport. I couldn’t be more thankful.”