Aryna Sabalenka won her 10th match in a row on Thursday at the AustralianOpen, defeating Poland’s Magda Linette 7-6 (1), 6-1 to reach her first career final.
The fifth seed who has reached three Grand Slam semi-finals in the past 18 months will bid for her first major trophy on Saturday as she squares off against reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.
After a 7-6 (4), 6-3 defeat of two-time tournament champion Victoria Azarenka, the 25th ranked Rybakina will make her long-awaited Top 10 ranking debut.
She missed the normal chance to profit from 2022 Wimbledon winner’s points and prestige after the tournament was stripped of ranking status by tennis bosses for banning Russian and Belarus players – including Azarenka – due to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
“I’m super happy to be in the final and ready to give everything I have left in one day,” Rybakina said.
“I didn’t expect (conditions) would be so different between day and night.
“It was much slower. The ball was heavier and it was difficult to move it.
“I had to adjust, but it was not easy because Vika, she’s a great player. She was playing really good, smart.
“Overall I’m happy that I managed to win the first set, it was a bit better in the second.”
Sabalenka claimed a WTA title at Adelaide this month and has won all six of her Open matches in straight sets.
The seed and the 45th-ranked Linette battled through a tiebreak first set lasting 53 minutes before Sabalenka unleashed in the tiebreaker to claim the opener.
She broke for 2-1 in the second set and increased the pressure all the way to victory, saving three break points for a 5-1 lead.
Linette held on to save three match points in the seventh game before Sabaenka wrapped up the evening a game later on her fourth match point.
“I’m happy I was able to get this win,” Sabalenka said. “She played really great tennis.
“I didn’t start well but I found my rhythm in the tiebreaker. I trusted myself and went for my shots.
“It was great tennis from me in the tiebreaker.”
Rybakina and the experienced Azarenka fought through an opening set which stretched to more than an hour, with the Kazakh taking the early match lead with a winning tiebreaker.
Rybakina went up a double break in the second set but had a hiccup in trying to close it out when she was broken while serving for victory.
But Azarenka was unable to ignite her mini-comeback, double-faulting to give away three match points.
Rybakina converted on her second as her opponent hit the net with a backhand to lose in just under one and three-quarter hours.
“It’s kind of hard to digest,” Azarenka said. “I had quite a few chances – not not converting them right now is difficult (to absorb).
“I can’t really say I’m proud of how I played… I’m proud of myself for how I fought and I tried, but tennis-wise I felt like I just wasn’t there, especially in the important moments.
“It’s not a great feeling right now to digest. But give me a couple hours and I can have probably a better outlook on this month in Australia.”