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Australian Open: Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka will do battle in big-hitting women’s final on Saturday | Tennis News

Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka will do battle in a big-hitting Australian Open women’s final on Saturday.

Wimbledon champion Rybakina began her Australian Open campaign on the outer courts at Melbourne Park but the 22nd seed is now just one step away from winning her second major, with only fellow big-hitter Aryna Sabalenka standing in her way.

In two similar semi-finals, Wimbledon champion Rybakina saw off Victoria Azarenka before Sabalenka reached her first Grand Slam singles final with victory over unseeded Pole Magda Linette.

The Russian-born Kazakh has used her experience from winning at the All England Club to make smooth progress through the draw, knocking out world No 1 Iga Swiatek along the way.

Rybakina’s huge serve has been her biggest weapon but she has also been formidable off the ground in conditions that suit flat hitters.

“I’m happy, at the same time tired,” said Rybakina. “But I think it was a really good match. I’m super happy to be in the final and ready to give everything I have left in one day.”

On the rise in Melbourne

Elena Rybakina will make her Top 10 debut after the Australian Open. She can rise to as high a No 8 if she wins the title on Saturday

By advancing to her first major final, Aryna Sabalenka will return to world No 2

Meanwhile, Sabalenka has taken control on and off the court and finally got past her semi-final hoodoo after her three previous Grand Slam semi-finals all ended in defeat.

There has been something different about Sabalenka at Melbourne Park this year and she is yet to drop a set in 10 matches in 2023 following her successful march to the Adelaide title which warmed her up nicely for the season’s first major.

“There is still one more match to go,” said the Belarusian. “It’s good that I kind of breakthrough in the semi-finals, but there is one more match to go. I just want to stay focused.”

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Sabalenka has yet to drop a set in 10 matches in 2023

Sabalenka, who could become the first singles player to win a major title under a neutral flag, celebrated that milestone with an understated clench of the fist before revealing she has stopped working with a sports psychologist in favour of “helping herself”.

“I realised that nobody other than me will help,” she said. “In pre-season, I spoke to my psychologist, saying ‘Listen, I feel like I have to deal with that by myself, because every time hoping that someone will fix my problem, it’s not fixing my problem’.

“I just have to take this responsibility and I just have to deal with that. I’m my psychologist.”

Rybakina slays former Grand Slam champions

Elena Rybakina is the first female player to defeat three former Grand Slam champions (Iga Swiatek, Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka) in single tournament at the Australian Open since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 (Martina Hingis, Lindsey Davenport and Monica Seles).

And Sabalenka will be telling herself to embrace the occasion and everything that comes with it in the biggest match of her life.

“I think that’s OK to feel a little bit nervous,” she said. “It’s a big tournament, big final. If you’re going to start trying to do something about that, it’s going to become bigger.”

Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina kisses the trophy as she celebrates after beating Tunisia's Ons Jabeur to win the final of the women's singles on day thirteen of the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, Saturday, July 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
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Rybakina’s coach believes her experience will put her on the front foot when she faces Sabalenka in the final

Although Sabalenka will be the most confident she has been in recent years heading into the final, Rybakina’s coach Stefano Vukov believes experience may become the biggest asset on the day when they go head to head.

“I think experience is a big factor,” he said. “Once you go through the roller-coaster ride once, you know what to expect, more or less, emotionally. For the team and for the player, definitely.

“I think we had a really, really good pre-season. I think she’s improved a lot physically, tactically, tennis-wise, and something that maybe we didn’t do as well before winning Wimbledon, so that was more of a surprise than this.

“I was expecting for her to start doing well. Obviously, you never know if you’re going to go this far, but preparation was key.”


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