AO23 W SF Split v3-1

Elena Rybakina vs. Victoria Azarenka

Going by the seedings, No. 22 Rybakina and No. 24 Azarenka weren’t supposed to be here. But it’s hardly a surprise to see either of them in the semifinals. Rybakina won Wimbledon last year; Azarenka has won the Australian Open twice, and was a US Open finalist as recently as 2020. When these two get going, they can ride their confidence and shot-making all the way to the biggest titles.

Both of them certainly looked confident in their quarterfinals. Rybakina served Jelena Ostapenko off the court in two sets, and Azarenka out-hit Jessica Pegula from the baseline in two even quicker sets (highlights below). So who is more likely to have the upper hand when they collide in the semifinals?

Rybakina won their only meeting, in straight sets in Indian Wells last year. She’ll also own the most important shot on the court, her serve; no matter how well Vika is playing, she won’t be able to win if Rybakina can neutralize her with her serve. But if Azarenka can get the ball back and get to even terms in rallies, the advantage will swing in her direction. Her ground-stroke attack was fully clicking against Pegula.

“It will be a great matchup,” Azarenka says. It will also be a toss-up. I’ll take Rybakina, because it has only been a few months since she showed us how far she can go when she gets on a roll late at a Slam. Winner: Rybakina


Aryna Sabalenka vs. Magda Linette

Sabalenka has reached the moment of truth. She has made three Grand Slams semifinals before, at Wimbledon in 2021 and the US Open in 2021 and 2022. Each time she has lost 6-4 in the third set, to Karolina Pliskova, Leylah Fernandez and Iga Swiatek. Against Swiatek, she was up 4-2 in the third.

Will the fourth time be a charm? On paper, Linette is certainly not as formidable an opponent as her countrywoman Swiatek. She’s ranked 45th, and in 14 years on tour, she’s never had a result close to this. She’s also 0-2 against Sabalenka; the last time they played, at the Tokyo Olympics, Sabalenka won 6-2, 6-1. To put it simply, the 6’0” Sabalenka is a more powerful player and athlete than the 5’7” Linette.

So what could go wrong? While Sabalenka has been on this stage before, she hasn’t necessarily been the favorite to win the whole thing; this time, with Swiatek out, she is. But she doesn’t sound worried about it. Sabalenka has been most people’s favorite to win the title for close to a week now, and she has yet to drop a set, even against another in-form player, Belinda Bencic.

“I feel a little bit different,” Sabalenka says. “I think that I lost those three semifinals just because I wasn’t really calm on court. I was, like, overdoing things. I was rushing a lot. I was nervous a lot. Screaming, doing all this stuff.

“Right now I’m a little bit more calm on court. I think I really believe that this is the only thing that was missing in my game. If I can keep that focus and that calm on court, I can get through it.”

There’s no guarantee Sabalenka will be as calm on Friday. But she may not need to be. Winner: Sabalenka