Aryna Sabalenka finally won her first Australian Open championship on Saturday by beating Elena Rybakina in three sets.
After the traditional trophy presentation and photo shoot at the Rod Laver Arena, Sabalenka finally got a good look at the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, the women’s singles championship trophy.
“‘Oh my God, I already have my name!” exclaimed Sabalenka Nine’s World Wide of Sports. “Wow. This is really just 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 alongside last year’s winners.
However, unlike the traditional format, Sabalenka’s name was inscribed without her home country of Belarus being mentioned, while the two previous winners of the year, Naomi Osaka and Ash Barty, have abbreviations for Japan and Australia respectively.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) have banned Russian and Belarusian players from participating in sanctioned events unless they play under a neutral flag.
While Belarus is not directly involved in the war in Ukraine, its support for Russia led the ATP and WTA to introduce a decision in March 2022 to ban players from playing under the two flags.
At this year’s Australian Open, Sabalenka played with a white flag next to her name instead of the red, green and white flag of Belarus, while all of her opponents played with their national flags next to their names.
“I think everyone remembers that I am a Belarusian player. That’s it,” Sabalenka said after the win.
Wimbledon banned all Belarusian and Russian players from participating in the tournament last year. Sabalenka was among the delegation 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 2014 French Open.