Melbourne : Reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina advanced to her second major final on Thursday, defeating former No.1 Victoria Azarenka 7-6(4), 6-3 in the Australian Open semifinals, here.
Rybakina, seeded 22nd, will face the winner of the last semifinal match between No.5 Aryna Sabalenka and Poland’s Magda Linette in Saturday’s final. Playing in her first Australian Open semifinal, Rybakina had a tough task of facing a major champion for the third straight match.
The 23-year-old paved her way to the biggest hard-court final of her career by notching wins over last year’s finalist, Danielle Collins, World No.1 Iga Swiatek, 2019 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, and two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka.
In a high-quality one-hour opening set, Rybakina and Azarenka exchanged blows from the baseline before the former No.1 broke first for a 3-1 lead, breaking on an entertaining cat-and-mouse point at the net.
But the Wimbledon champion broke straight back and settled herself on serve to lead 4-3 after 24 minutes. Having steadied the ship, Rybakina broke for a 5-3 lead but could not close the set.
Azarenka saved set point with a running forehand down the line pass and broke to get back on serve. This time it was Rybakina’s turn to withstand the pressure on her serve.
In the biggest game of the set, Rybakina saved her serve from 0-40 to hold to 6-5. Rybakina went on to play a clean tiebreak to edge Azarenka, finishing with 20 winners to 16 unforced errors.
Azarenka finished with 17 winners and 13 unforced errors. Having lost just one set in the tournament, Rybakina proved a formidable front-runner. With a set in hand, she broke Azarenka quickly and consolidated to lead 3-1 in the second set.
As Azarenka’s serve began to falter, Rybakina grabbed a second break to lead 5-2. Having been unable to generate a break point in the second set, Azarenka earned two chances to break Rybakina as she tried to serve out the win.
A clean return winner at 5-2, 30-40 gave the 33-year-old one break back, but Rybakina closed out the match on her return. A sixth double fault from Azarenka gave Rybakina a triple-break point and the Wimbledon champion converted after Azarenka’s backhand landed in the net.
Rybakina finished the 1-hour and 41-minute match with 30 winners, including 9 aces, to 21 unforced errors. Azarenka hit 26 winners to 27 unforced errors.
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