Melbourne | Sabalenka gains revenge over Gauff to reach AO Final

Defending champion Aryna Sabalenka gained her revenge over Coco Gauff to reach the Australian Open Final on Thursday, having lost to the 19-year old American in the final at the US Open in September.

It was definitely a tough match but I was, kind of, ready that she was going to try her best to come back. She did it already in the previous match, so I was ready. I just really enjoy playing her. It’s always great fights, it’s always great battles. It was a great match, she’s a great player and I’m super happy to get this win. Aryna Sabalenka

The Belarusian World No 2 defeated Gauff, 7-6(2) 6-4, after a thrilling 1 hour 41 minute contest on Rod Laver Arena, and has yet to drop a set in the tournament.

In fact, she has won 13 straight matches in Melbourne, and is the first player to reach back-to-back Australian Open finals since Serena Williams in 2016 and 2017.

Sabalenka’s fellow countrywoman Victoria Azarenka is the last woman to win back-to-back titles in Melbourne, having done so in 2012 and 2013.

“After US Open, I really wanted that revenge,” 25-year old Sabalenka told ESPN after her quarter-final win. “I was just keep telling myself, ‘Just pretend it’s a practice and keep trying your best, keep playing point by point and just focus ball by ball and the rest will take care of it later’.”

The reigning champion will be the heavy favourite in the final against either qualifier Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine or No 12 seed Zheng Qinwen of China, whose semi-final contest followed on Laver on Thursday night.

“Any way it’s a final, any way it’s going to be a great battle, a great fight, and I’m really looking forward to that final and it doesn’t matter who I’m going to face,” Sabalenka continued. “I know that I’m going to go out there and do everything I can to get that win.”

Coco Gauff served for the opening set but lost in the breaker before Aryna Sabalenka ended her 10-match winning run

© Paul Crock/AFP via Getty Images

Entering the semi-final, Gauff had led their head-to-head 4-2, with the pair having split their two matches last season, while the American has won her first 10 matches of the year, and her last 12 Grand Slam matches.

Sabalenka, though, has been in perfect form during the Melbourne fortnight, dropping just 16 games to make her 6th consecutive major semi-final.

The winner of the match would not only earn a chance to win a second major title, but also to clinch the World No 2 ranking after the tournament.

Sabalenka dominated the early stages, breaking Gauff twice to build a 5-2 lead, but the 19-year-old methodically drew level by improving her first-serve percentage and drawing out the rallies.

Serving to close out the set at 5-3, 30-30, Sabalenka showed signs of fragility, coughing up her first double-fault to give Gauff a break point, which the American converted to get herself back on serve.

The teenager saved a set point with a blistering 121 mph body serve to hold for 5-5, and with Sabalenka now reeling, Gauff broke her again to earn a chance to serve out the set at 6-5, moving to within 2 points of doing so at 30-0, but the Belarusian stormed back to take the next 4 points and force a tiebreak.

Having steadied herself, the reigning champion turned the tables in the breaker, with Gauff now struggling to find her first serve, which allowed Sabalenka to dominate the return and seal a one-set lead in 57 minutes.

Aryna Sabalenka wobbled briefly but regained her composure against Coco Gauff at Melbourne Park

© Paul Crock/AFP via Getty Images

After the rollercoaster opener, the match settled into a more clinical battle in the second.

Gauff and Sabalenka exchanged holds until the American served at 4-4, but she put a tight forehand into the net at deuce to give the Belarusian break point, then misfired on her backhand to give up the break, and the defending champion served it out to close the 1 hour 42 minute win.

“It was definitely a tough match but I was, kind of, ready that she was going to try her best to come back,” Sabalenka said afterwards. “She did it already in the previous match, so I was ready.

“I just really enjoy playing her. It’s always great fights, it’s always great battles. It was a great match, she’s a great player and I’m super happy to get this win.”

Unlike the US Open final, where Sabalenka got tight after taking the first set and lost in three, she clamped down to win in straight sets, finishing the match with 33 winners to 28 unforced errors, serving at 72% and firing 4 aces, while Gauff struck 22 winners to 20 miscues, 8 of which were double-faults, and served at 57%, winning just 39% of her second-serve points.

Gauff, however, was efficient on her break points, converting 3 of her 4 chances, but Sabalenka’s sustained return pressure made the difference, and she generated 10 break points in the match and broke 4 times.

“I think I was able to focus on myself, and I was prepared that she was going to move really good, put all the balls back to me,” Sabalenka said. “I had to be ready to play an extra shot and I was ready for anything tonight. That was the key.

“The last time I played her [at the US Open], I didn’t have almost any support and, today, thank you [to the crowd and their support].”

Aryna Sabalenka (R) greets Coco Gauff (L) after victory in their singles semi-final match on Day 12 of the Australian Open in Melbourne

© Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images

Thursday night’s other WTA semi-final sees two players vying for their first Major final, as newly-minted Top 10 player Zheng battles Yastremska, who is trying to pull off a ‘Raducanu’ by winning a Major as a qualifier.

21-year old Zheng made strong progress in 2023, with a record of 35-19, and winning her first 2 WTA titles in Palermo and Zhengzhou.

The Chinese also achieved her first Grand Slam quarter-final in New York, upsetting Ons Jabeur in the 4th-round.

Incredibly, though, Zheng is yet to play against a top 50 player in the tournament due to a series of high-profile exits.

23-year old Yastremska has already won 8 matches in Melbourne, after surviving a trio of 3-setters two weeks ago in qualifying.

Like Zheng, the Ukrainian has lost 2 sets through 5 rounds in the main draw, but unlike the Chinese, every player she has taken out has been top 50 opposition.

Yastremska has recorded notable wins over World No 7 Marketa Vondrousova and two-time champion Victoria Azarenka earlier in the tournament.

Meanwhile, Sabalenka awaits in the wings.

Aryna Sabalenka dominated on serve against Coco Gauff on Thursday night

© Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images



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