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‘Rinky and Kubes’ set arena on fire, storming to underdog history

Tennis Australia

Jason Kubler and Rinky Hijikata have ensured an Australian Open trophy has remained in home hands, storming to a shock straight-sets win in the men’s doubles final.

With singles champion Ash Barty retiring and Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis unable to defend their 2022 doubles crown due to injury, Kubler and Hijikata have flown the flag, beating Monaco’s Hugo Nys and Poland’s Jan Zielinski 6-4 7-6 (7-4) in Saturday night’s decider.

The men’s match didn’t get started on Rod Laver Arena until after 11pm with the women’s singles final stretching to three sets.

But plenty of local fans stuck around at Melbourne Park post-midnight to watch the unlikely victory and the pair being presented the trophy by doubles legends, American twins Mike and Bob Bryan.

They also will also split an impressive prize cheque of $695,000.

 

Kubler, the former junior world No.1 who’s completed a spectacular rise over the past 12 months after an injury-hit career, said it was his career highlight.

“It’s pretty crazy now what me and Rinky can do for the rest of the year – I think we can play all of the tournaments together, hopefully build off this,” the 29-year-old said.

“But, man, this is the highlight of the career for me.

“Rinky is only 21 and he’s a grand slam champion so he’s got a great future ahead of him.”

Playing together for the first time, the local wildcards cut a swathe through the draw to make the title match, knocking off three top 10 seeds including top-ranked Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski in the quarter-finals.

Nys and Zielinski were also playing in their maiden grand slam final and only linked as a pair last March.

However, they won the Metz trophy last season and reached the US Open quarter-finals.

Showing no signs of nerves, the Australians broke Zielinski’s serve to love early in the opening set.

Kubler himself served well throughout while Hijikata, at 21 eight years younger than his partner, was outstanding at the net.

They both outplayed their opponents from the back of the court to fire up their fans.

Kubler stormed through his serve to level at 6-6 in the second set, sending it to a tiebreak.

They edged ahead 5-4 after a searing Kubler forehand and won the match in a chaotic final point that left Hijikata on his backside.
“I had no clue what was going on – Kubs (Kubler) swatted two balls back and I absolutely stacked it,” Hijikata said.

“To be honest, I’m a bit dirty that that’s my match point, winning a grand slam on that.”

Hijikata said he didn’t have long to celebrate, flying out to Burnie in Tasmania on Sunday for a challenger tournament.

No all-Australian pairing since the legendary Woodies – Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde – had won the Open men’s doubles in a quarter of a century until last year.

Now Kubler and Hijikata have repeated the wildcard heroics of the ‘Special Ks’, Kyrgios and Kokkinakis.

Australians own two of the four men’s grand slam doubles trophies.
After losing last year’s Australian Open final to Kyrgios and Kokkinakis, Max Purcell and Matt Ebden won Wimbledon six months later.

Rybakina unable to  grasp AO crown

Elena Rybakina has fallen short in her quest to emulate Ash Barty and add an Australian Open title to her collection seven months after winning Wimbledon.

Playing in her first final at Melbourne Park, the young Kazakh was looking to follow the path of Barty, who won the 2021 grass court major and backed up with her 2022 home slam before announcing her shock retirement.

But she was stopped by Russian powerhouse Aryna Sabalenka, who won her first ever major 4-6 6-3 6-4 in a high-quality clash on Rod Laver Arena on Saturday night.

Rybakina felt she didn’t make the most of her opportunities.

“I would say that not many girls can put me really under the pressure but against her, it’s not easy because she has a great serve and she plays really aggressive,” the 23-year-old said of Sabalenka.

“I know that I have to serve well. It’s also pressure in the end and as soon as I have the opportunity, take it.

“Today I had some opportunities I didn’t take and the match didn’t go my way.

“Hopefully, we’re going to have many more battles.”

Rybakina got off to a flying start to lead 3-1 before serving out the first set while Sabalenka’s service game was shaky, producing five double faults.

But the Belarusian found her groove in the second set, blasting 21 winners while she did damage with her oft-shaky serve, only giving up one double fault.

The players went toe to toe in the deciding set with break-point pressure finally cracking Rybakina, who dropped her serve to trail 3-4.

World No.5 Sabalenka consolidated, piling more pressure on Rybakina, who claimed the scalp of five seeds including top-ranked Iga Swiatek, en route to the final.

With nine aces for the match and a top speed of 190kph, Rybakina held her nerve for a 4-5 scoreline, making Sabalenka serve for the title.
Rybakina saved three championship points but sent her forehand long to hand her 24-year-old rival her first grand slam title.

While disappointed, Rybakina felt it was strong standard from both finalists.

“I think quality of the match was good – it was very powerful game from both of us,” Rybakina said.

“There’s not many powerful players on tour, maybe this kind of pushes the other players to be more aggressive.”

As a consolation, Rybakina will become the first player representing Kazakhstan to reach the top 10, which is well overdue after not picking up any ranking points for her Wimbledon triumph.

“I don’t think I’m going to feel different just because of the ranking now. But for sure it’s going to be different on the smaller tournaments as I’m going to be seeded.

“Maybe in some tournaments I’m not going to play first round so of course there is some benefits out of this.

“Not the result I wanted today, but I think overall it was a really good two weeks for me.”

Sabalenka savours triumph

Aryna Sabalenka wept tears of relief and joy after breaking through for her elusive maiden grand slam title.

Her watershed win completes a glorious unbeaten summer in which the 24-year-old also claimed the Adelaide International title and dropped only one set in 11 matches to vault herself back to No.2 in the world rankings.

Ash Barty was fittingly back at Rod Laver Arena on Saturday night to return the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup before the Belarusian held her nerve in a gripping final game to deny Rybakina a second slam in seven months.

Sabalenka has the distinction of being the last player to topple Barty in a final, beating Australia’s former world No.1 in Madrid in 2019 before the 26-year-old’s shock retirement – 12 more titles and three grand slam crowns later – last March.

Barty was happy for Sabalenka to take centre stage as she finally delivered on her undeniable talent.

But it was not straightforward as Rybakina saved three match points in an epic final game before Sabalenka saluted and slumped to the court in relief and perhaps also disbelief.

“I will need a few days to realised what just happened. I’m speechless,” Sabalenka said.

“It was super emotional, I was super happy that I was able to handle all of the emotions in the last game.”

Her success completes one of the great transformations in sport after Sabalenka, gripped by serving yips, departed Melbourne last year following 56 soul-destroying double-faults in just four matches.

With a tour-topping 428 doubles for 2022, Sabalenka desperately turned to a psychologist – and the results have been stunning.

The once-fragile, volatile unfulfilled talent has not lost since falling to Caroline Garcia in last year’s season-ending championship final in Texas and out-aced Rybakina, the Open’s ace leader, 17 to nine in the final.

“I lost three grand slam semi-finals and it was a really tough time. It was really needed from me to understand what I needed to change and improve,” Sabalenka said.

“I’m super happy to break this wall.

“Thanks to my team, the craziest team on tour. We went through a lot of lows last year but we worked so hard.

You deserve this trophy more than me.”

 

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