Aryna Sabalenka produced an incredible performance in front of the home crowd in Minsk as she managed to level the Fed Cup final with the best win of her career, defeating the reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 in a two-hour thriller. Although the Belarusian failed to put up a consistent performance, she was able to regain her composure quickly at times when she was overwhelmed by her frustration.
Best possible start for Sabalenka
Although just being 19 years-old, Sabalenka did not seem affected by the pressure early in the match despite the fact that Belarus was down 0-1 and she had to triumph in this rubber to give her country a chance to claim their first ever world title. Playing some fearless aggressive tennis, Sabalenka swung freely and quickly powered to a 3-0 lead within a blink of an eye. Stephens finally managed to find some of her vintage self but was still unable to do anything special to get past the invincible Sabalenka offense.
Sabalenka takes the opening set
Surprisingly, a slight misfocus from the Belarusian soon saw her produce a slew of unforced errors which ultimately allowed Stephens to break straight back in the seventh game. Although Sabalenka started to get frustrated with herself, she was still able to regain her composure quickly and her tough mentality soon saw her produce an incredible return winner to regain the lead. Earning the golden opportunity to serve out the set, the youngster was unfazed by the pressure and ultimately took the first set 6-3.
Stephens turns the table and takes the lead
Everything was going Sabalenka’s way when she earned a couple of break points in the opening game of the second set, but nothing went right for the Belarusian after she committed several errors and threw away her opportunities, allowing Stephens to survive the nervy game and remain in contention. That game proved to be pivotal as Sabalenka failed to earn any break points throughout the remainder of the set.
The American levels the match
The tough service hold seemed to act as a confidence-booster for Stephens, who threatened to make a breakthrough on the return with Sabalenka’s overwhelming unforced errors helping her. The American finally took the lead for the first time in the encounter when she broke in the sixth game, displaying some world-class defensive skills before the Belarusian threw in yet another error to gift her the lead. After several games, Stephens finally managed to seal the second set and level the match, getting the small contingent of American fans all fired up.
Neither able to hold serve
Unexpectedly, both players could not find the rhythm on their serves in the crucial final set. The decider started with an unbelievable six consecutive breaks of serve, with Sabalenka wasting game points in all of her service games and only to get broken soon after. As the match edged towards its closing stages, the crowd started to get more involved and participative, audibly giving their support to the home player.
The Belarusian overcomes the pressure and nerves to seal the win
Sabalenka was also the first player to hold serve in the deciding set, recovering from a 0-30 deficit and hitting four consecutive winners to do so. Stephens followed it up with a love service hold but Sabalenka remained powerful and solid, although consistency could never be used to describe her game. Serving to stay in the encounter, Stephens faced a tremendous amount of pressure and conceded match point opportunities. An emotional Sabalenka ultimately sealed the incredible win over the US Open champion after two hours of play, leveling the tie at 1-1 before heading into the second day of play.