Elena Rybakina to face Aryna Sabalenka in Australian Open final
Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka will face off in the Australian Open final on Saturday after the two women came through their respective semi-finals in straight sets.
Rybakina passed two-time champion Victoria Azarenka, winning 7-6 6-3 in just over an hour and 40 minutes, while Sabalenka ended unseeded Polish Magda Linette’s dream run to reach her first Grand Slam final for the fourth time. to ask after a 7-6 6-2 win.
Huge hitter Rybakina has now made two of the last three Grand Slam finals following her title-winning run at Wimbledon last summer and, at just 23, is likely to be a force on the WTA Tour for many years to come .
When it all clicks, the Russian-born Kazakh’s game is almost unstoppable and a marvel to watch. Her fierce serve and booming groundstrokes allow her to dictate runs with ease, as long as she can maintain consistency to go with the power.
Momentum wavered in the first set and the more experienced Azarenka looked to have the upper hand in the tie-break, but Rybakina found her serve when she needed it most to take a crucial lead.
The second set was a slightly simpler affair, as Rybakina beat Azarenka three times en route to securing a place in her second Grand Slam final.
“I’m super happy and proud, with my team too because without them it would be difficult to be here,” Rybakina said in his post-match interview. “And really thank you [the crowd] a lot because it’s an incredible atmosphere. I’m super happy to be in the final and to play here again.
“I have a bit of Wimbledon experience, and I want to come onto the court and enjoy the moment and the atmosphere because it’s amazing to play in front of you guys. We’ll see how it goes – fine sure i will do my best i will fight and i hope i will win.
Fifty-three percent of Rybakina’s serves at that tournament went unreturned, according to Eurosport, the highest number among the men’s and women’s draws at this year’s Australian Open.
It has become one of the Tour’s most potent weapons, and after opening Thursday’s semi-final with a nervous double fault, Rybakina snatched four unreturned serves – including three aces – to close the opener and spark an excited murmur in the crowd.
These two women had met only once on the tour, Rybakina winning 6-3 6-4 in Indian Wells last year.
Rybakina beat former Grand Slam champions in back-to-back matches to reach this stage – world No. 1 Iga Światek and then Jelena Ostapenko – and had to do it again to reach Saturday’s final.
Rybakina’s serve looked untouchable in the opening rallies, but a masterclass on the return from Azarenka earned him a break to go up 3-2 – only for his opponent to break immediately.
There wasn’t much to choose between these two players in what was a brilliant first set of tennis, as both women hit their groundstrokes with stunning power and precision.
But Rybakina seemed to have found the decisive breakthrough, breaking Azarenka’s serve to go up 5-3 and give himself the chance to serve the first set.
However, the 2022 Wimbledon winner may have started to feel the magnitude of the occasion for the first time, as her first serve suddenly gave up on her to allow Azarenka to pull back on the first call and quickly equalize. the scores at 5-5.
Rybakina’s first-serve percentage, which had reached 75% at the start of the set, had now dropped to 48% and again opened the door for Azarenka to break serve.
The world No. 25 is known for her relaxed demeanor – her famous low-key Wimbledon victory celebration last year made headlines around the world – but her frustration started to seethe slightly as she kicked a ball in the ground in frustration after another missed serve. .
It was thanks to her state of mind that she managed to save three break points from 0-40 to force Azarenka to serve to take the first set to a tie-break.
Although Rybakina’s coach did little to help the tense situation, berating her with an exasperated expression every time she missed a shot, she held on in the tie-break to win the first. set.
“Of course they were nervous because they want me to play well,” she said of her team after the game. “Today was a bit more difficult for me. I couldn’t play aggressive tennis, the ball wasn’t going as much, but I tried my best to win.
Rybakina found her first serve in the second set and broke Azarenka twice to take a 5-2 lead and give herself a chance to serve for the match.
However, the nerves certainly seemed to have gotten the better of her and she tightened up as Azarenka stepped up her game to recover one of those breaks of serve.
Rybakina was not denied for long, however, as she broke Azarenka’s serve for the third time in the set to book her place in Saturday’s final.
Saturday’s final should be a tantalizing clash between two of the Tour’s biggest hitters and two players who simply overpowered their opponents in the semis.
After losing her three previous Grand Slam semi-finals, there seemed to be an added determination in Sabalenka’s eyes that this would be the night she would end this run.
After a tense first set, Sabalenka reached a level Linette couldn’t match in the tie-break and comfortably closed it 7-1.
It was a trend that continued into a one-sided second set as Linette had no answer to Sabalenka’s relentless power.
“I’m super happy that I was able to get this win, she’s an amazing player, she played great tennis,” Sabakalenka said in her post-match interview. “I’m just super happy right now.
“I would say I didn’t start very well and then in the tie break I found my rhythm and I started to trust myself, I started aiming the shots and that was good. tennis from me in the tie break.
“To be in the final of these kind of tournaments is amazing, to feel that atmosphere on these kind of courts.”
Sabalenka and Linette traded early service breaks in what was a tense first set, as both players started the match feeling the pressure.
Linette, playing on the biggest stage of her career, was by no means impressed with the occasion and held serve twice – at 4-5 and 5-6 – to stay in the set and lead it to a tie-break.
So far she had done a good job of absorbing a lot of Sabalenka’s power, sometimes using it to return her own vicious groundstrokes, but she was finally overwhelmed in the tie-break.
Sabalenka seemed to find another gear to switch to when it mattered most, her forehand in particular doing some serious damage as she finally broke Linette’s resolve.
Linette only managed to earn a single point in a lopsided tie-break as Sabalenka’s relentless power gave her a crucial one-set lead.
She then faced a stern test in her first service game of the second set but, as she has done throughout this tournament, again held firm to make it onto the scoreboard.
However, it would be as good as it gets for Linette in the second as Sabalenka maintained the level she found in the tie-break to win four straight games and take a 4-1 lead.
Linette popped up three break points in Sabalenka’s next service game, but the Belarusian slammed the door each time to walk a game away from the final.
Thanks to Linette, she continued to fight as she had throughout this tournament and dodged three break points to force Sabalenka to serve for the match.
That’s exactly what she did, after a nervous wobble at the start, to book the place in a Grand Slam final she had long dreamed of.