Elena Rybakina, the Wimbledon winner, has another chance to win a major championship after making it to the Australian Open final, where she will compete against fifth-seeded Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.
The 23-year-old Rybakina defeated the two-time champion Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 to terminate her chances of capturing the crown ten years after her previous victory.
To go to her maiden major final, Sabalenka defeated Poland’s Magda Linette.
The strong 24-year-old defeated her unseeded opponent 7-6 (7-1) 6-2.
Sabalenka, who had never advanced past the third round of a Grand Slam tournament, was the overwhelming favorite to defeat 30-year-old Linette. As the match went on, Sabalenka gained confidence.
Sabalenka’s relief was palpable after she qualified for Saturday’s championship match against another heavy hitter after suffering three consecutive losses in major semifinals.
After winning the Adelaide title, Sabalenka is on a 10-match winning streak. “I wouldn’t say I started really well, but in the tie-break I got my rhythm, trusted myself, and started going for my strokes,” she said.
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Rybakina, who is ranked 22nd in the seeds, will compete in her second major final following her victory at the All England Club in 2017.
She exclaimed, “I’m really thrilled to be in the final and play one more game here.
“The weather was different, so I couldn’t play aggressive tennis or go as hard for my shots, but I was still pleased to win.
“Wimbledon gave me a lot of experience, and I want to take the court [for the championship match] and enjoy it.”
Low-key Rybakina is making sure that people take notice of her Rybakina has been one of the least-noticed Wimbledon champions in recent memory due to her low profile and an artificially low ranking because points weren’t given out at the All England Club last year.
The tall Kazakh, who was born in Moscow and competed for Russia until she was 19 years old, has been highlighting her exceptional talent at Melbourne Park.
Rybakina claimed at the US Open in 2017 that she did not “feel like” a major champion because Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players had dropped her ranking below the top 20.
While Rybakina maintained she “did not care” about being forced onto a small outer court for her Australian Open first-round match, there has been no escaping the threat she posed ever since.
In the round of 16, she eliminated world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, and she also defeated 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko and 2022 runner-up Danielle Collins.
One of the secrets of her success has been big serving, which set up what many anticipated to be an intriguing matchup against 33-year-old Azarenka, whose returning game has been a key to her success.
With three aces in the opening game of the match, Rybakina set the tone for the match. She then delivered another easy hold before 24th seed Azarenka broke for a 3-2 victory by absorbing her opponent’s power and switching defense into attack.
The tide quickly shifted back to Rybakina after an immediate response, but as she attempted to serve out the set at 5-3, her first-serve percentage sharply declined.
That allowed Rybakina to gather her composure to hold and gave her the confidence to take control of the tie-break, allowing Azarenka to rally to a score of 5-5 and earn three break points in the 11th game.
The costly blunders continued in the second set as Rybakina asserted herself with two breaks for a 5-2 advantage, which did little to aid Azarenka.
Rybakina won the match but was unable to serve out the match, thus she made a rather appropriate low-key victory celebration.
Belarus is represented in the Melbourne final thanks to Sabalenka
Aryna Sabalenka revels in her semi-final victory at the Australian Open.
After losing in the semifinals at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2021, as well as last year at Flushing Meadows, Sabalenka made it to her maiden major final.
Prior to Sabalenka ensuring that the eastern European country, whose flag she is unable to play under due to its backing for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, would be represented, Rybakina’s victory put an end to the possibility of an all-Belarusian final in Melbourne.
No one supports war, according to Sabalenka, who added that she was “very sad” that politics had gotten in the way of sport after Russian and Belarusian athletes were barred from Wimbledon in 2017.
While Sabalenka claims that she has “zero” influence over the war, her success will raise more awareness of a contentious political subject in sports.
Her attention has been on making the major final that her talent has long promised, notwithstanding the lingering scandal.
Sabalenka’s match got off to a tense start when she dropped her serve in the opening game. Although she broke back for 2-2, she didn’t hit her best until the decisive first-set tie-break, when her powerful striking showed.