Aryna Sabalenka and Qinwen Zheng
(2) Aryna Sabalenka vs. (12) Qinwen Zheng

The women’s final at this year’s Australian Open will be contested between a returning champion and a new Top 10 player this year.

Second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka is trying to win her second major here in her first title defense.

She has steamrolled her way to the final without dropping a set, including her payback win over (4) Coco Gauff in the semifinals, 7-6(2) 6-4.

Twelfth-seeded Qinwen Zheng is hoping to become the second Asian woman to win a Slam after Li Na claimed two over ten years ago, including a title here in Australia.

Sabalenka is working to build a Hall of Fame resume. At 25 years old, she’s in her prime and playing like it. She knows her game and how to extract the most out of it, and she has become mentally stronger since the U.S. Open loss to Gauff, which has always been one of her toughest struggles.

Zheng is trying to complete a Cinderella story, going from a secretive No. 12 player in the world to a bona fide star over these last two weeks. Her already abundant endorsements will surely grow even more whether she wins this title or not. If she does win it, her career will explode. She’s only 21 years old, so she’s hoping this is the beginning of a long career competing for majors.

Match Breakdown

The stat that jumps off the pages is Zheng’s tournament-leading 48 aces. For context, Sabalenka is third with 24 aces.

She’s also number one in percentage of first serve points won. Sabalenka is fifth.

Zheng doesn’t have a power serve, either. She doesn’t even rank in the top 20 of the fastest serves hit in the tournament. That means she isn’t blasting them past her opponents. Instead, her aces are perfectly placed and she’s probably outthinking her opponent directionally.

The first wrinkle is that she’s only getting 54% of her first serves in here. That’s too low.

The second wrinkle is that she also leads the draw in double faults, with 35.

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Remember when Sabalenka had the yips on her serve a few years ago? When she couldn’t even manage to hit the thing? Those days are long gone. Her double faults are well under control.

If Zheng is going to have a chance, her serve has to be on. Full stop.

Sabalenka will do what she always does: pulverize the ball.

There’s precious little to puzzle out about Sabalenka’s game plan. The only question is, can you blunt her power, force her to overhit and make bad decisions, and get her to be frustrated with herself.

That will be Zheng’s job. Get as many balls back in play as possible. Try not to give Sabalenka any rhythm. Junk it up a little bit if necessary.

It will be a tall order right now because Sabalenka is in nearly peak form.

Winner: Aryna Sabalenka