After knocking out world No. 1 Iga Swiatek then Jelena Ostapenko, Elena Rybakina, seeded No. 22, disposed of Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals of the Australian Open on Thursday. Rybakina, 25th in the world, dominated the Belarusian yet double winner in Melbourne (2012, 2013) 7-6 (7/4), 6-3.
“I’m very happy and proud to be in the final here for the first time,” said Rybakina, who had never made it past the third round in three appearances at the Australian Major so far. “Today was tough because the conditions meant the balls weren’t very fast,” explained the powerful 23-year-old.
Already a finalist at Wimbledon
She could not fully rely on her biggest weapon, the serve: she had nine aces (for 3 double faults) but served 58% of first serves and saw 64% of her serves return. By comparison, in the quarters Ostapenko had returned only 57%. In the exchange, she had thirty winning shots and committed 21 unforced errors.
In addition to her physical strength, she will approach the final strong from Wimbledon experience last year where she reached this stage in a Major for the first time in her career.
“I have more experience now. I just want to come on the court and enjoy it. We’ll see how it goes: I’ll fight, I’ll do my best and I hope to win,” she said. . His last opponent will therefore be Sabalenka whose game is also based on power and a big serve.
This face-off, which may have been its weak point in the past, has been reliable since the start of the tournament in Melbourne. Thursday, she was able to rely on it again to beat the Polish Magda Linette (45th) 7-6 (7/1), 6-2, and expects a “big battle” against Rybakina. “I’m super happy with this win,” said the 24-year-old Belarusian. “I didn’t start the match very well, but I found my rhythm from the tie break, I gained confidence and I started to let go of my shots”, she analyzed.
After clearly dominating the decisive game, she lined up five games in a row to lead 5-1. There, on Linette’s service, she missed her first two match points by committing two unforced errors. But she did not flinch on her next service game.
First Grand Slam final for Sabalenka
Sabalenka remained on three knockout stages in Melbourne in the last three editions. She had already played three Grand Slam semi-finals (Wimbledon 2021, US Open 2021 and 2022) without ever reaching the final.
But she has already played and won a final at the Australian Open, in 2021 in doubles, associated with the Belgian Elise Mertens. “Being in the final is an incredible experience. I hope it will help me for Saturday,” she said, without much conviction, however. Sabalenka has still not lost a single set of the season, which began with a title at Adelaide 1.
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