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Rybakina, Sabalenka show their class to set up final showdown

australian open
Adelaide champion Aryna Sabalenka has not dropped a set en route to 10 wins in 2023

Elena Rybakina stormed to her first Australian Open final with a 7-6(4) 6-3 victory over twice champion Victoria Azarenka on Thursday and the Russian-born Kazakh will face Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka after the fifth seed beat Magda Linette 7-6(1) 6-2.

Wimbledon champion Rybakina wore down Azarenka in a contest that was cagey early on and had some wild momentum swings before she dominated her opponent on Rod Laver Arena to prevail.

Rybakina held her nerve as 24th seed Azarenka foundered in a messy first set tiebreak then dropped serve twice to fall 5-2 behind in the second.

The Kazakh was broken as she served for the set but Azarenka double-faulted to concede three match points in the next game, allowing Rybakina to close out an emphatic win.

“I’m super happy and proud. Without my team it would be difficult to be here so thanks a lot to them,” Moscow-born Rybakina, Kazakhstan’s first Grand Slam champion, said on court.

“It was an incredible atmosphere and I’m super happy to be in the final and play again here.

“It was difficult conditions, I couldn’t play offensive tennis but I’m happy I managed to win.”

Sabalenka joined the 22nd seed in the final after dismissing Linette following a cold start on a chilly evening on the main showcourt, as the 24-year-old reached her first Grand Slam final after three previous semi-final defeats.

The victory also extended Sabalenka’s winning run this year to 10 matches following her successful march to the Adelaide title which warmed her up nicely for the season’s first major.

“I’m super happy that I was able to get this win and she’s an unbelievable player,” Sabalenka said of Linette. “She played really great tennis. The atmosphere was unbelievable.

“Just being in the final in this kind of tournament is amazing. To feel this atmosphere, to play on this court it’s a great experience for me and I hope it’s going to help tomorrow. Sorry, Saturday.”


Rybakina’s serve has propelled her through the tournament, and she clubbed nine aces earlier against Azarenka.

But she double-faulted on the first point of the match, raising a low gasp from the terraces.

They needn’t have worried.

She thumped down three consecutive aces to hold then served out to love in her next effort.

After that start, it was a surprise when Azarenka picked her off at the net to break her in the fifth game.

Rybakina shrugged it off then broke Azarenka twice, repeatedly outrallying the powerful Belarusian.

Azarenka responded with her own firepower.

Running full tilt, she saved a set point with a forehand passing shot and put the pressure back on Rybakina.

The Kazakh cracked, hitting a backhand long, and Azarenka yelled “Let’s go!” as she put the match back on serve.

Though failing to land a first serve 11 times in succession, Rybakina saved three break points at 5-5 before momentum shifted again when Azarenka tightened up in the tiebreak.

The Belarusian double-faulted to fall 4-2 behind, punched a backhand long to concede two set points, then slapped a forehand well wide as she failed to deal with Rybakina’s aggression.

Having lost the tiebreak, the errors piled up for Azarenka as she dropped serve again in the second set and all but surrendered with a wild forehand to fall 5-2 behind.

Rybakina wobbled when serving out the match, a double-fault coughing up three break points and opening the door for Azarenka.

But any hopes of a comeback slipped away as Azarenka imploded on serve.

Though she saved a match point, her bid for a third title at Melbourne Park ended flatly, with a backhand hammered into the net, one of 27 unforced errors.

“It’s kind of hard to digest, obviously,” a gloomy Azarenka told reporters, wearing sunglasses at her post-match media conference.

“Obviously I had quite a few chances that I gave myself.

“I cannot really say I’m really proud of how I played.”


Geopolitics has been ever-present at the year’s first Grand Slam, with organisers making the unprecedented decision to ban Russian and Belarusian flags from the event after a complaint from the Ukraine embassy in Australia.

Police questioned four fans with “inappropriate flags and symbols” at Melbourne Park following Wednesday’s quarter-final between Novak Djokovic and Russian Andrey Rublev.

Australian Open organisers on Thursday issued a reminder to players and their entourages about the policy after a video showing Novak Djokovic’s father posing for pictures with fans holding Russian flags was widely shared on social media.

Serbian Djokovic, who plays American Tommy Paul in the men’s semi-finals on Friday, did not comment on the video.

Asked by reporters whether it was difficult to focus on tennis with the politics rumbling in the background, Azarenka lost patience.

“I don’t know what you guys want us to do about it,” she snapped.

“These incidents that in my opinion have nothing to do with players, but somehow you keep dragging players into it.”

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