Aryna Sabalenka surges into the Australian Open final with a 7-6(1) 6-2 win over unseeded Pole Magda Linette, extending the Belarusian's unbeaten start to the year.
Aryna Sabalenka will face Elena Rybakina in the Australian Open final after overpowering unseeded Magda Linette 7-6 (7/1), 6-2 in a semi-final played in chilly conditions on Rod Laver Arena.
After Thursday's win, fifth seed Sabalenka's maiden Grand Slam final appearance will be against the Wimbledon champion, who earlier beat Victoria Azarenka in straight sets.
"I'm super happy, super happy that I was able to get this win," said the Belarusian, who had been hoping to play her compatriot Azarenka in Saturday's showpiece.
"Magda's an unbelievable player. She played really great tennis," added the 24-year-old.
Sabalenka came into the match as many observers' favourite for the Melbourne crown but she had never won a Grand Slam semi-final in three previous attempts.
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She had led world number one Iga Swiatek 4-2 in the third set of their US Open semi-final in September before a spectacular meltdown where she lost 16 of the last 20 points.
That sort of mental baggage in tennis is always lurking, especially for someone as emotional as Sabalenka, who has admitted to being stymied by nerves in the past.
But the world number five has been in the form of her life since arriving in Australia.
She won the Adelaide International warm-up tournament and has now extended her unbeaten streak to 10 matches, not losing a single set in any of them.
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Aryna Sabalenka is a Grand Slam singles 𝐅𝐈𝐍𝐀𝐋𝐈𝐒𝐓 for the first time in her career 🙌#AusOpen | @SabalenkaA pic.twitter.com/DJXMUsdF4B— Eurosport (@eurosport) January 26, 2023
A more assured persona on court
Sabalenka has been exuding a calmer, more assured, persona on court, without losing any of her famed aggression.
It was this new version of Sabalenka that was to undergo a severe examination early against Poland's surprise-package Linette.
Linette had enjoyed a dream run to her first Grand Slam semi-final at the age of 30, already knocking out four seeded players on the way including world number four Caroline Garcia of France.
The Pole was out of the gate fastest, breaking to love in the opening game and holding for an early lead.
Sabalenka was being made to work hard and showed all her new-found patience to get back on terms with a break of her own, to love, for 2-2 and the set went to a tiebreak.
Sabalenka timed her moment perfectly to up the aggression, and the decibel level, racing to 4-0 with a scream.
An ace that barely clipped the line stretched it to 5-0 and she closed out comfortably after 51 minutes, having smacked 20 winners to just seven from Linette.
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"I would say that I didn't start really well," admitted Sabalenka.
"And then on the tiebreak I kind of found my rhythm and just started trusting myself, started going for the shots. It was great tennis from me in the tiebreak."
Sabalenka showed no sign of letting up in the second set, breaking Linette and with a scream of "Come on!" holding for a 3-1 advantage.
A second break took her within sight of the finish line, which she raced across in 1hr 33min.
Linette, who had been flying the flag for Poland after the shock exit of world number one Swiatek, will have the consolation of soaring to a career-high 22nd in the world when the new rankings come out on Monday.