The four women featured in Thursday’s Australian Open semifinals find themselves in very different places with respect to their career trajectories.
Victoria Azarenka, 33, seeks a slice of immortality -- her third title in Melbourne, something only seven other women have done in the Open Era.
Elena Rybakina, 10 years younger than Azarenka, is trying to join her as a multiple major champion -- and prove that winning Wimbledon last year was no fluke.
Meanwhile, Aryna Sabalenka -- in a familiar place so tantalizingly close to the ultimate prize -- is desperate to collect her first Grand Slam singles title.
Unseeded Magda Linette, ranked No.45 and past the third round of a major for the first time in 30 attempts, is playing with heaps of house money.
Here’s a closer look at the semifinal matchups, which begin Thursday at 7:30 p.m. local (3:30 a.m. ET).
 Aryna Sabalenka vs. Magda Linette
Why Sabalenka can win
She is, by far, the highest seed left -- and playing the kind of forceful yet composed tennis that major titles require. Sabalenka had lost five of six previous matches to Donna Vekic but, after some early drama, settled down and took a 6-3, 6-2 win.
She’s won both her career matches against Linette, at the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo (6-2, 6-1) and three years earlier in Tianjin (6-1, 6-3). In Melbourne, Sabalenka has won all of the 10 sets she’s played -- and only one forced her past six games.
In fact, Sabalenka has won all nine of her matches in 2023 in straight sets, the longest such streak in her career. In addition, she’s dropped only 26 games on the way to the semifinals, another career best.
Notable stat: This is her fourth major semifinal of the past six she’s played. She’s intent on advancing to her first Grand Slam final. Sabalenka seems ready to take that next step.
In her words: “I think that I lost those three semifinals just because I wasn’t really calm on court. I was overdoing things. I really wanted to get this Slam. 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 stay that focus and that calm on court, I can get through it. Right now I keep saying, `No, work for it. It’s not going to be easy. You have your shots, you have your serve. Just work for it and go for bigger targets.’”
Why Linette can win
It was a career breakthrough when Linette won her first-career third-round match at a major. And now she’s won two more, including Wednesday’s 6-3, 7-5 quarterfinal victory over Karolina Pliskova.
Linette has taken out four seeded players: No.16 Anett Kontaveit in the second round, followed by No.19 Ekaterina Alexandrova, No. 4 Caroline Garcia and now Pliskova. Linette’s previous record against seeded opponents in Grand Slams was 6-18. She has been consistent in all facets of her game.
Against Pliskova, she protected her second serve, winning 16 of 24 points, while battering Pliskova’s second offerings, taking 15 of 21.
Linette is loving the conditions here. Twelve of the 13 semifinals she’s reached were on hard courts.
Notable stat: How unlikely -- how unfathomable is this run by Linette? With a win over Sabalenka, she would become only the fourth unseeded women to reach the final at the Australian Open this century -- after Serena Williams (2007), Justine Henin (2010) and Garbiñe Muguruza (2020).
In her words: “My last [Sabalenka] encounter wasn’t the best at the Olympics, so I think I have really big room there, because it obviously can’t be any worse than the last one. I will just try what I’m doing this whole week. I’m being very consistent, returning really well, and keeping my serves.
"I think she will be just a little bit more consistent version of being aggressive on every single shot. I will just need to serve really well again. I will try to do my best on the return and I have been doing that pretty well the last two matches, especially when the opponent was kind of similar.”
 Elena Rybakina vs.  Victoria Azarenka
Why Rybakina can win
Because she’s serving the lights out. Nearly half of Rybakina’s serves this fortnight have not made it back to her side of the court. That gives the 6-foot-0 player an incredible edge -- before the rallies even get started.
She’s blasted 35 aces in five matches, leading all players in Melbourne. Rybakina’s run here is reminiscent of last year’s seven-match sequence at Wimbledon, where she defeated former champion Simona Halep in the semifinals and World No.2 Ons Jabeur in the final.
Previously, Rybakina had lost two of three matches on grass, but found her focus at the All England Club. She’s dialed in again. She produced 11 aces against Jelena Ostapenko, but just as important were seven of eight break points saved when she was returning.
One other thing: Rybakina was a winner in her only match against Azarenka, in straight sets, in a Round of 32 match last year at Indian Wells.
Notable stat: Rybakina has won 128 of 159 first-serve points, a gaudy 81 percent that leads all players. Her fastest serve was 121 mph, a speed only Coco Gauff was able to match. Perhaps more impressive, Rybakina’s average serve speed is 111 mph.
In her words: “I always served big, but for sure when I started to work with my coach [Stefano Vukov], we did a lot of changes on the technique. Like this, I gained even more power.
"Yeah, it’s my weapon on the court. I think of course I got all the experience at Wimbledon, and it's helping me now this time here in Australia and I know what to expect. For sure, it’s just easier in this case after Wimbledon."
Why Azarenka can win
If anyone’s game is built to deal with that Rybakina serve, it’s Azarenka’s. She’s the best pure returner left; she’s won a tournament-leading 105 first-serve return points. At the same time, she has converted 26 break points, more than any other player at the Australian Open.
This is Azarenka’s ninth Grand Slam semifinal but only the second since the 2013 US Open. Incredibly, the 6-4, 6-1 win against Jessica Pegula in the fourth round was her first victory over a Top 5 player in a major in 11 years, going back to No.3 Maria Sharapova at the 2012 US Open semifinals. Azarenka’s experience could be the difference.
She’s won 47 main-draw matches Down Under, equaling Stefanie Graf for sixth on the Open Era list -- and 153 major matches overall, tying Martina Hingis for 13th. Lastly, there is this: Azarenka has played five Grand Slam semifinals on hard courts -- and won all five.
Notable stat: Azarenka has re-entered the clutch zone she visited in back-to-back titles here in 2012-13. She’s managed to save 20 of 32 break points against her serve across five matches. She dropped the first set to Zhu Lin in the fourth round and came back to win 12 of 15 games.
In her words: “I broke a few racquets after my match [last October] in Ostrava. I was at the point where I couldn’t find anything that I feel good about myself, not like even one sentence. From then, I kind of tried to take it more simple. I started with not trying to be positive, just trying to be neutral, not to go negative.
"Accepting the anxiety that I have. Kind of working through it. I’m pretty happy that the process that I’m going through makes me feel confident about myself, happy about myself, and helps me to be more open, be more accepting, be compassionate.”