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Flawless Aryna Sabalenka ends Magda Linette fairytale to reach first major final
The world No. 5 won her first Grand Slam semifinal in four tries—and extended her record in sets this season to 20-0. Elena Rybakina awaits.
Published Jan 26, 2023
WATCH: Sabalenka battled through a tense first-set tiebreaker to ultimately secure a 10th straight-set victory of 2023.
Up against an inspired underdog in Magda Linette, Aryna Sabalenka had to play so well with all the pressure that comes from being an unbeaten favorite playing for her first Grand Slam final.
The No. 5 seed was all that and more to end Linette’s fairytale run, 7-6 (1), 6-2 and continue her own march towards destiny, booking an Australian Open championship match against reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina after 93 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.
“There is still one more match to go,” Sabalenka said of her muted reaction after the match. “It's good that I kind of broke through in the semifinals, but there is one more match to go. Yeah, I just want to stay focused.”
Rybakina’s straight-set win over two-time champion Victoria Azarenka dashed Sabalenka’s hopes of an all-Belarusian final, perhaps leading to a slow start as Linette, in the midst of a career renaissance, raced through the opening two games to the delight of Polish supporters in the stands.
As unassuming as Sabalenka is explosive, Linette nonetheless showed a remarkable ability to bring rallies back to neutral territory, absorbing and redirecting her rival’s pace for some scintillating winners of her own.
“She was moving really well, putting everything back,” Sabalenka explained. “I felt like a little bit under pressure, which I expect.
“But, yeah, then, like, I start telling myself that I have to move a little bit better. I try to focus on my movement. As I start focusing on my movement, I start feeling the rhythm better.”
Sabalenka, who won the Australian Open women's doubles title with Elise Mertens in 2021, carried an 0-3 record in Grand Slam singles semifinals, having lost them all in heartbreaking three-setters. But the 24-year-old was also armed with all the poise of a player yet to drop a set through nine matches in 2023. She began the season with an 11th WTA title in Adelaide and proceeded to decimate the field in Melbourne Park, snapping win streaks from Belinda Bencic and Donna Vekic to find herself in her first Australian Open semifinal.
Slowly adjusting to the conditions and her in-form opposition, Sabalenka made use of her reworked service motion and improved on-court demeanor to recover the break and steady herself in time for a near-perfect tiebreaker. She raced through the first six points and allowed only the briefest of respites from the Pole to clinch the opening set in just under an hour.
“I didn’t start really well and then in the tiebreak, I kind of found my rhythm and started trusting myself and going for the shots,” Sabalenka explained on court. “It was great tennis from me in the tiebreak.”
The level Linette displayed to put together an incredible Australian Open run—scoring upsets over four straight seeds: No. 16 Anett Kontaveit, No. 19 Ekaterina Alexandrova, No. 4 Caroline Garcia, and No. 30 Karolina Pliskova—dropped just enough at the start of the second set for Sabalenka to make major in-roads on the way towards the final, surging within two games of victory with a double-break advantage.
A close sixth game was solved by Sabalenka’s mighty serve and she was soon at match point thanks to her 30th winner—a thudding cross court backhand. Though Linette saved three to stay in the match, Sabalenka made no mistakes on serve, converting her fourth to clinch a career milestone.
Up next is Rybakina, whom Sabalenka leads 3-0 in their head-to-head and conquered two years ago at Wimbledon to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
“She’s an amazing player,” Sabalenka said. “She’s playing great tennis, super aggressive, and she’s already got one Grand Slam so she has the experience of playing finals. It’s going to be great battle and I’m really looking forward to this final.”
She will have to be all that and more to defeat the impressive Kazakh to win her first Grand Slam.