Melbourne | Sabalenka soars into AO semis

Unlike Coco Gauff earlier in the day, who needed over 3 hours to advance to the Australian Open semi-finals, defending champion Aryna Sabalenka powered into the Last 4 in just 71 minutes, taking down Barbora Krjicikova, the 9th seed, 6-2 6-3, in an impressive display of dominant tennis.

I think my mindset, that I'm not getting crazy on court, I'm not rushing things, I'm just playing point by point and that's it, and fighting for every point without overthinking about my dreams, about what I want to do, about how many slams I want to win and all that stuff. Aryna Sabalenka

Gauff’s scrappy win over Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk, 7-6(6) 6-7(3) 6-2, was in stark contrast to the Belarusian’s crisp and efficient 6-2 6-3 demolition of the 2021 French Open champion from the Czech Republic as she continued her charge towards back-to-back titles.

The quarter-final started more than 2 hours late because of farcical scheduling, and the World No 2 did her best not to linger too long on Rod Laver Arena.

She has looked close to invincible in her title defence so far, dropping just 16 games and winning every set across her first 5 matches, although the 25-year-old did drop a service game late in the second set on Tuesday night to prove she is human, but still cruised to a 12th straight victory at Melbourne Park.

“It was a really great match, and I played really great tennis, and I hope I can just keep playing that way or even better,” Sabalenka said. “I’ve been working so hard last year and this pre-season, I think it’s all about hard work on the practice court so you’re ready for the matches.”

Barbora Krejcikova scrambled hard against Aryna Sabalenka but could not stop the World No 2 from advancing to the Last 4

© David Gray/AFP via Getty Images

Krejcikova entered the match having been on court for 4 hours longer than Sabalenka, and looked a step too slow against the Belarusian, who is aiming to become the first woman to win two-straight Australian Open titles since her countrywoman Victoria Azarenka did so in 2012 and 2013.

Sabalenka struck 20 winners to just 13 unforced errors in a clinical performance against Krejcikova, who tried everything she could think of to break up the rhythm of the No 2 seed.

The Czech won just 20% of points on her second serve, which dropped at one stage as low as 14%, and she was constantly under the cosh, pushed back by the power of the Sabalenka returns and the accuracy of her penetrating groundstrokes.

The encounter began shortly after 9pm after lengthy day session matches, but Sabalenka soon looked in the mood to make up for lost time.

The first break came in the 3rd game, when a brilliant backhand return was followed by a big forehand, while Sabalenka also showed deft touch, with a stunning drop-shot in the 5th game, which took her to a 4-1 lead.

A loose game, combined with some better play from Krejcikova, handed one of the breaks back, but the reigning champion bounced back immediately as the Czech, trying to mix up the pace, went long with a backhand.

Such was the venom of Sabalenka’s groundstrokes that Krejcikova was constantly at full stretch behind the baseline, just trying to hack the ball back into play, squash-shot style.

Sabalenka held to love, and the first set was done and dusted in 33 minutes.

Aryna Sabalenka (L) took just 71 minutes to dispatch Barbora Krejcikova In their quarter-final contest

© Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Krejcikova held to start the second, but, after a brief delay for some low-flying pigeons, Sabalenka broke to go 2-1 up, and the set followed the pattern of the first as she extended her lead to 4-1, only to hand one of the breaks back in the next game.

The 28-year old Czech, ranked 11, beat Sabalenka in Dubai last year, having lost the first set 6-0, and when she held serve to reduce the deficit to 4-3 and went up 15-30 on the Sabalenka serve, a come-back looked possible.

It was a short-lived hope, as Sabalenka came up with some big serves when needed, and then ripped through the next Krejcikova service game to wrap up another convincing victory to power into her 6th consecutive Grand Slam semi-final, and 8th overall.

Sabalenka held the upper hand in the forecourt, usually former doubles No 1 Krejcikova’s territory, and won 7 of 10 net points compared to the Czech’s 3 out of 7.

Krejcikova was also unable to protect her serve from being punished, and she landed just 59% of her first deliveries, while winning only 4 points in total behind her second serve.

Aryna Sabalenka (L) dominated the net encounters against Barbora Krejcikova on Tuesday night

© Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images

US Open champion Gauff will have to up her game considerably to stop the Sabalenka momentum, having produced an error-full performance earlier in the day against the hard-hitting Kostyuk.

It has been three-and-a-half years since Gauff and Sabalenka first played each other, a 7-6(4) 4-6 6-4 win for the American in the 2nd-round of Lexington 2020, which was the second tournament of the tour’s resumption following that year’s Covid-19 shutdown.

While Gauff leads the overall head-to-head 4-2, Sabalenka is now a different player.

Every now and again, Sabalenka catches sight of a recording of one of her old matches, back in the old days, which demonstrate how far she has come.

“I see that sometimes,” she said with a laugh. “I’m not super-proud of myself doing some things on court. [But] it was part of my journey, and I’m actually happy that I faced those kind of challenges and I’m happy that I was able to fix that and to become more calm on court. It’s been really huge work, and I’m happy that I was able to fix that.”

Whoever wins the encounter will start as a heavy favourite in the final, with a rank outsider certain to be in the decider.

The quarter-finals on Wednesday involve unseeded Czech teenager Linda Noskova and Ukraine qualifier Dayana Yastremska, while Russian Anna Kalinskaya takes on China’s Qinwen Zheng, the only seed left standing in the top half of the draw at No 12.

“I think my mindset, that I’m not getting crazy on court, I’m not rushing things,” Sabalenka said, asked about the biggest change in her over the past couple of years. “I’m just playing point by point and that’s it, and fighting for every point without overthinking about my dreams, about what I want to do, about how many slams I want to win and all that stuff.”

Aryna Sabalenka has yet to drop a set in Melbourne and is well on her way to defending her title

© Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images



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