Aryna Sabalenka was finally able to capture her first championship at the Australian Open after defeating Elena Rybakina in three sets on Saturday.
Following the traditional trophy presentation and photoshoot inside Rod Laver Arena, Sabalenka finally caught a good look at the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, the Women’s Singles Champion trophy.
“’Oh my god, I already have my name!” Sabalenka exclaimed to Nine’s World Wide of Sports. “Wow. This is just actually unbelievable. It’s all the stars. All those names.”
As the new champion continued to look at her prize, television cameras zoomed in on the trophy to show Sabalenka’s name next to winners of year’s past.
However, unlike the traditional format, Sabalenka’s name was engraved without her home country Belarus listed while the year’s previous two winners Naomi Osaka and Ash Barty has abbreviations for Japan and Australia respectively.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in Feb. 2022, The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) have barred Russian and Belarusian players from competing in sanctioned events unless they play under a neutral flag.
Although Belarus is not directly involved with the war in Ukraine, its support of Russia made the ATP and WTA introduce the decision in March 2022 to bar players from playing underneath the two flags.
Throughout this year’s Australian Open, Sabalenka played with a white flag next to her name instead of Belarus’ red, green, and white flag, while all her opponents played with their national flags next to their names.
“I think everyone still knows that I’m Belarusian player. That’s it,” Sabalenka said after the win.
Wimbledon banned all Belarusian and Russian players from competing at last year’s tournament. Sabalenka was among the delegation that was not invited to London which included former world number one Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Karen Khachanov, Victoria Azarenka, and Daria Kasatkina.
Sabalenka became just the second Belarusian woman to win a Grand Slam title, following Victoria Azarenka’s back-to-back Australian Open titles in 2012 and 2013.
She also became the first singles player from Russia or Belarus to win a Grand Slam since Maria Sharapova did so at the French Open in 2014.