Brisbane | Sabalenka to meet Rybakina in a repeat of the AO final 2023

There will be a dream final at the Brisbane International presented by Evie on Sunday, when Aryna Sabalenka, the World No 2, is set to meet Elena Rybakina in a repeat of last year’s Australian Open final.

Let's just say it's going to be great battle as always. Always great matches against Elena. I think we both serving really well. We both playing really super aggressive tennis. I think that's why all the matches are pretty tight. We both put each other under so much pressure. I think that's why it makes our matches really, really great battles. Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka saw off Victoria Azarenka, 6-2 6-4, in a semi-final meeting of former World No 1s, and renews her rivalry with Rybakina, the No 2 seed, who dispatched unseeded Linda Noskova, 6-3 6-2, in just 63 minutes in Saturday’s semi-final.

Both delivered performances of impressive authority in their respective semi-finals.

Sabalenka ousted two-time champion and No 8 seed Victoria Azarenka after an hour and 27 minutes, fending off a gritty challenge by her fellow Belarusian, and was able to find her best tennis on the most important points.

The defending Australian Open champion was imperious in the first set, in which she slammed 18 winners, including 4 aces, to only 6 unforced errors, and, in a series of high-octane baseline rallies, Sabalenka was invariably able to find the winning shot first.

The 25-year-old also came up with a moment of real brilliance to capture her first break for 3-1, racing across the court to find a no-look, full-stretch forehand pass off an Azarenka volley that had been spinning away from her.

A stunned Azarenka was only able to put her half-volley response into the net.

After saving 3 break points in her first two service games of the second, Azarenka managed to keep the scoreboard tighter, but Sabalenka came up with unanswerable one-two punches to save 3 break points against her in her final 2 service games, and sealed victory on return as Azarenka found the net with a backhand.

Despite Azarenka’s watertight stats of 16 winners to only 6 unforced errors, Sabalenka managed to maintain a similar ratio with greater levels of aggression, tallying 34 winners to 13 unforced errors.

Sabalenka advanced to her 25th career final, and her first since her US Open loss to Coco Gauff last September.

Elena Rybakina efficiently saw off talented teenager Linda Noskova to set up a repeat of last year's AO final against Aryna Sabalenka

© Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Earlier, Rybakina’s first serve was on song against No 40-ranked Noskova, and the Kazakh landed 76% of her first deliveries and won 80% of those points, while fending off all 4 break points she faced.

She fired 22 winners, including 8 aces, to Noskova’s 14, while keeping her unforced error count down to 10 compared to the teenager’s 17.

The result was Rybakina’s second win in as many meetings with Noskova, having also defeated the Czech, 6-3 6-3, in the 2nd-round of Roland Garros last year.

The 2021 Wimbledon champion advanced to her 15th career final, 10th on outdoor hard courts, 4th in Australia and first since her title run in Rome last May.

This year marks a decade since Sabalenka and Rybakina first faced each other, which was a 6-3 7-6(4) win for the Belarusian in a junior clay-court event in Budapest.

Since then, they’ve gone on to play 7 times at pro level, most notably in last year’s Australian Open final, and Sabalenka currently leads the overall pro head-to-head, 5-2.

All but one of their matches have been played on outdoor hard courts, the exception being their 2021 Wimbledon 4th-round clash, won by Sabalenka, 6-3 4-6 6-3.

The Belarusian won their first 4 pro meetings, all in 3 sets, but Rybakina began to make an impact on the head-to-head last year, when they split 4 encounters with 2 wins apiece.

Last year’s Australian Open final marks the only time Sabalenka has defeated Rybakina from a set down.

Both of the Kazakh’s wins came at Indian Wells and Beijing last year in straight sets, and both followed a pattern of a tight first set, followed by pulling away in the second.

They have split 2 previous meetings in finals, with Sabalenka claiming her first Grand Slam trophy in Melbourne last year, while Rybakina took the Indian Wells final, 7-6(11) 6-4.

Aryna Sabalenka took out former Brisbane champion Victoria Azarenka in straight sets on Saturday

© Patrick Hamilton/AFP via Getty Images

Sabalenka will be seeking to extend a positive 13-11 record in tour-level finals in her career so far, while Rybakina will be bidding to improve her negative 5-9 record in finals.

“Let’s just say it’s going to be great battle as always,” said Sabalenka on her rivalry with Rybakina. “Always great matches against Elena.

“I think we both serving really well. We both playing really super aggressive tennis. I think that’s why all the matches are pretty tight. We both put each other under so much pressure. I think that’s why it makes our matches really, really great battles.”

On Saturday, the Russian-born Kazakh blasted 8 aces past  Noskova, the Czech teenager, breaking her opponent once in the first set, and twice in the second.

She made 75% of her first serves against Noskova, hitting 26 winners and making only 10 unforced errors to reach her 15th final on the WTA Tour.

Rybakina, who won Wimbledon in 2022, has only lost 12 games on the way to the final and is yet to drop serve in a perfect build up to the Australian Open, where was runner-up last year to Aryna Sabalenka.

“I didn’t expect I would play that well this week,” admitted the 2nd seed, adding that she had been sick before arriving in Brisbane. “It’s an amazing start to the year for me.”



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