Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina beats Victoria Azarenka to reach her second Grand Slam final at the Australian Open where she will play fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka in a power battle on Saturday in Melbourne
Thursday 26 January 2023 14:19, UK
Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina made it through to her maiden Australian Open final where she will play fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka in a power battle on Saturday in Melbourne.
After Rybakina saw off Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (7-4) 6-3, Sabalenka reached her first Grand Slam final with a 7-6 (7-1) 6-2 victory over unseeded Pole Magda Linette.
|76%||1st serve win percentage||63%|
|41%||2nd serve win percentage||22%|
|5/11||Break points won||3/8|
|8/13||Net points won||7/9|
|78||Total points won||62|
Rybakina, 23, has shown the same form that carried her to a maiden major title on the lawns of the All England Club last summer, using her big serve and groundstrokes to overpower opponents including world No 1 Iga Swiatek.
Her latest victim was two-time former champion Azarenka, who was back in the semi-finals for the first time since her second title at Melbourne Park in 2013.
The Belarusian fought back from a break down in the opening set but paid for too many errors in the tie-break, and Rybakina was the more composed in the second to seal victory.
"I'm super happy and proud, with my team also," said Rybakina. "It's an incredible atmosphere and I'm super happy to be in the finals and play one more time here.
"I got a lot of experience from Wimbledon. I just want to come on court and really enjoy the experience. For sure I'll try my best, I'll fight, and hopefully I'm going to win."
The Kazakh can claim to have the best serve in the women's game following Serena Williams' retirement, and she set her stall out early with three aces in a row to finish the opening game.
It was Azarenka, one of the best returners in the game in her heyday, who secured the first break of serve but back came Rybakina with three games in a row to lead 5-3.
She was unable to serve it out, though, her big weapon letting her down for once, as Azarenka saved a set point before breaking back and forcing a tie-break.
The 33-year-old was having some success in getting Rybakina off balance but a double fault was one of five unforced errors in the tie-break, which was far too many.
Elena Rybakina is the first female player to defeat three former Grand Slam champions (Iga Swiatek, Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka) at the Australian Open since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 (Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport and Monica Seles).
The pattern continued in the second set, with Rybakina punishing Azarenka when she missed her first serve and using her big game to keep her nose in front.
Although she was again unable to serve it out at 5-2, a break of the Azarenka serve sent Rybakina, who hit 30 winners, through to a first Australian Open final.
Sabalenka hit 33 winners against Linette and maintained her record of not losing a set through 10 matches so far this season.
"I'm super happy that I was able to get this win," said Sabalenka. "She's an unbelievable player, she played great tennis. I didn't start really well and in the tie-break I found my rhythm, started trusting myself and going for my shots."
While Linette is a fine player and did everything she could to deny Sabalenka a rhythm, this felt a bit like a contest between the fifth seed and herself.
One of the most outwardly emotional players on tour, she has credited a new commitment to a calmer mindset for her consistency so far this season.
But, with memories of three Grand Slam semi-final defeats fresh in her mind, Sabalenka admitted this was a big test of whether she could keep her head.
The first game did not appear to bode well as the 24-year-old made three unforced errors to drop serve but she quickly recovered the deficit and from there began to play really well.
It was to Linette's credit that, playing in the biggest match of her life, she did not allow herself to be completely overpowered and held her serve to force a first-set tie-break.
|59%||1st serve win percentage||70%|
|52%||2nd serve win percentage||64%|
|1/4||Break points won||3/7|
|4/6||Net points won||7/8|
|58||Total points won||71|
Aryna Sabalenka has won the first 10 matches in 2023. Eight of the last 10 females to have done so have been No 1 in the world at least once in their careers. (Ashleigh Barty, Naomi Osaka, Karolina Pliskova, Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka).
But there Sabalenka was untouchable, opening up a 6-0 lead, and in the second set she was simply too strong for Linette, who has enjoyed a breakthrough Grand Slam at the age of 30.
The Pole saved three match points at 5-1 but Sabalenka clinched her fourth opportunity, celebrating with an understated clenched fist that implied she knows the job is not yet done.