Tennis | Australian Open 2023 | Victoria Azarenka searches for the first Grand Slam final in three years against Rybakina

By Tony Fairbairn

  • Elena Rybakina [22] v Victoria Azarenka [24]
  • Aryna Sabalenka [5] v Magda Linette
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Victoria Azarenka looks to reach her first Grand Slam final in three years when she takes on Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina on women’s semi-finals day.

Elena Rybakina [22] v Victoria Azarenka [24] | H2H: Rybakina leads 1-0

Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina has been in fine form at the Australian Open with wins over fellow Grand Slam champions Iga Swiatek and Jelena Ostapenko showing why she is a Grand Slam champion. Now Rybakina looks to defeat another Grand Slam champion as she looks to win a second Grand Slam title in the space of six months. Standing in her way is Victoria Azarenka who outclassed Jessica Pegula in the quarter-finals to send a big statement to the rest of the tour that she is rolling back the years and is now entering her first Grand Slam final since the US Open in 2020.

H2H & Match Fundamentals

Elena Rybakina [22] v Victoria Azarenka [24] H2H: Rybakina leads 1-0
Australian Open 2023 Melbourne, Australia
Hard (O) Prize Money: $925,000
Fourth on Rod Laver Arena (Not before 08:30 GMT) Discovery+ Add-on via Amazon Prime

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Rybakina has produced inconsistent form since claiming the Wimbledon title last summer as she continues to adapt to the pressure that comes with being a Grand Slam champion.

However, the Kazakh has adapted to the expectations in Melbourne as her streaky style of play has seen her knock out title contenders and now she looks to reach her second Grand Slam final in the last six months.

Standing in Rybakina’s way is Azarenka who is rolling back the years at the scene of her two previous Grand Slam titles. After storming past some tough opposition and a mixture of playing styles, Azarenka will believe that she can win her first Grand Slam title since returning to the tour in 2018.

After her win over Ostapenko, Rybakina admitted that the experience of winning Wimbledon is helping her in Melbourne and talked about the improvement on her serve.

“I think of course I got all the experience at Wimbledon, and it’s helping me now this time here in Australia and I know what to expect,” Rybakina told the WTA website.

“Feeling good on the court and just really enjoying every match I’m playing here. I would say that I always served big, but for sure when I started to work with my coach, we did a lot of changes on the technique. Like this, I gained even more power. It’s my weapon on the court, and of course we are trying to work on it. It’s always a lot to improve.”

As for Azarenka it’s all been about a change in mindset and overcoming anxiety that’s been the key to her form in Melbourne.

“Especially last year, my tennis wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t mentally there,” Azarenka admitted to the Australian Open website.

“I played with a lot of fear and anxiety. It was really difficult to be brave, to make the right choices when you feel anxious and hesitant. I worked a lot on my mindset, challenging myself on things I wouldn’t do before, trying to push myself.

“When you achieve great success, sometimes you become conservative, more hesitant to try new things, but this off-season I was open-minded. I put my head down and I worked hard.”

Rybakina will look to dictate play through her baseline power as well as use her serve to force Azarenka into shorter returns. While Azarenka will look to counter-attack and use her variety of depths to force the errors from Rybakina.

If Rybakina is on her game, then she should win this match, but with slower night time conditions, Azarenka will be confident that she can edge through a tough semi-final test.

Prediction: Azarenka in three sets.

Aryna Sabalenka [5] v Magda Linette | H2H: Sabakenka leads 2-0

Aryna Sabalenka’s win over Donna Vekic was a significant psychological boost as she overcame a damaging head-to-head record to stay mentally tough and seal a place in the last four. Sabalenka has won all 18 sets she has played this season and will believe this year is the year that she can finally win a Grand Slam with the fifth seed never having a better chance to do it this year. Standing in Sabalenka’s way is Magda Linette who has knocked out both Caroline Garcia and Karolina Pliskova to reach her first Grand Slam semi-final at 30 years of age.

H2H & Match Fundamentals

Aryna Sabalenka [5] v Magda Linette H2H: Sabalenka leads 2-0
Australian Open 2023 Melbourne, Australia
Hard (O) Prize Money: $925,000
Fifth on Rod Laver Arena (10:00 GMT) Discovery+ Add-on via Amazon Prime

Sign up for a 30-day free trial of Prime Video and a 7-day free trial of Discovery+ Player

After a 2022 season that produced mixed results, Sabalenka has been on a mission so far this year having won all 18 sets that she has played so far. The Belarusian has destroyed everyone in her path as she looks mentally tougher with her being much more consistent on her serve as she looks for a first Grand Slam title in Melbourne.

Standing in Sabalenka’s way is surprise semi-finalist Linette who has gone through a change in her own mentality to book a spot in a first Grand Slam semi-final. Now with nothing to lose, Linette will hope that her positivity and aggressive play can continue her dream run as she aims for a first Grand Slam final.

After her win over Vekic, Sabalenka admitted that her calmness was the key to reaching the semi-finals.

“I’m super happy with the win,” Sabalenka told the Australian Open website.

“Was a tough match…she’s a great player and it’s always tough to play against her. I think just because I was calm and I kind of expected this game from her, so I was able to stay in the game no matter what – I think this was the key.”

As for Linette, she admits that this journey to the semi-finals will stay with her life and that learning from her mistakes has been the key to reaching a first Grand Slam semi-final.

“I’m happy that I have this opportunity … finally I’m breaking something that you can’t really measure it in any way,” Linette told the Australian Open website.

“When I’m down, I’m not that dramatic about it – I can still keep fighting against my opponent, not only myself. All through my life I’ve been taking mistakes and losses very personally, so I had to disconnect those two things. It was really difficult, because I felt a lot of times that the misses, the mistakes, were defining me.

“I will never forget this. It’s the first time ever I’m breaking through … I mean, this will stay with me for life, so I’m really grateful.”

Sabalenka will look to continue to be aggressive on return and pounce on any short second serves from the Pole.

While Linette will look to serve well and be aggressive as early in the point as possible as well as come into the net.

Linette will believe that she can pull off another upset and her free hitting means she won’t be under pressure.

However Sabalenka’s aggressive play and consistency should prove too much for the Pole as she aims to reach her first Grand Slam final.

Prediction: Sabalenka in straight sets.

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