MELBOURNE, Australia -- No.5 Aryna Sabalenka will face reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina for the Australian Open title on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. in Melbourne).
Semifinal Roundup: Rybakina d. Azarenka | Sabalenka d. Linette
Sabalenka has yet to drop a single set, while Rybakina, the defending Wimbledon champion, has lost only one. Both players are in stellar form.
Everything you need to know about the Australian Open final
Here are three thoughts ahead of the championship match:
The final will feature power vs. power
Saturday's final will put power tennis under the spotlight, with two of the biggest hitters in the women's game going toe-to-toe under the lights on Rod Laver Arena. Rybakina's power comes from her clean and flat ball-striking, one that is based on timing. Sabalenka's power is heavier, with her muscled spin driving the ball through the court.
Saturday night in Melbourne 🗓️— wta (@WTA) January 26, 2023
The 2023 #AusOpen FINAL 💥 pic.twitter.com/s4sFRASq19
Heavy power has gotten the better of flat ball-striking in their past three meetings. All three matches went the distance, with Sabalenka winning their last match at 2021 Wimbledon 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. Their last match on a hard court came at 2021 Abu Dhabi, where Sabalenka won 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 en route to the title.
Coaches Corner: Serve, first strike will determine the Australian Open champion
Sabalenka dialed in and holding on
Twelve months ago, Sabalenka was tallying double-digit double faults and scrapping through emotionally fraught wins and losses in Australia. Now she's into her first major final and has won all 20 sets she's contested this season. The serve that haunted her last year has been broken just six times in six wins in Melbourne. Of the 20 sets she's won, beginning with her title run in Adelaide, she dropped more than four games only six times.
But the 180-degree turnaround on her serve and the work she put in with her coaches, sports psychologist and biomechanical specialist isn't the only reason Sabalenka finally snapped her 0-3 record in Slam semifinals. The 24-year-old has cut a noticeably calmer competitive façade since the season began, one that has allowed her to dig out of the toughest of holes to keep her perfect record.
"I was trying to [do] less screaming after some bad points or some errors," Sabalenka said. "I was just trying to hold myself, stay calm, just think about the next point.
Are you not ENTERTAINED? ⚔️@SabalenkaA | #AusOpen— wta (@WTA) January 26, 2023
"I'm still screaming 'c'mon' and all that stuff. I don't think it's that boring to watch me. Just less negative emotions."
As Sabalenka said in Adelaide, the competitive tiger still lives inside her, but she's learned to control it. Her solution was counterintuitive. She stopped working with her sports psychologist during the pre-season to force herself to take control.
"I realized that nobody than me will help," Sabalenka said. "I spoke to my psychologist saying, like, 'Listen, I feel like I have to deal with that by myself, because every time hoping that someone will fix my problem, it's not fixing my problem.'
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"I just have to take this responsibility and I just have to deal with that."
Rybakina is unrattled and unbothered
The reigning Wimbledon champion has every reason to be full of confidence heading into her second major final in the past seven months. She's lost one set during the fortnight and her dominating serve has been the key to taking out two of the best returners in the women's game.
Against World No.1 Iga Swiatek in the fourth round, Rybakina was broken twice, but 32% of her first serves went unreturned. Facing a resurgent Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals, Rybakina was broken three times but 36% of her first serves went unreturned. It's a distinct advantage that has allowed the rangy 23-year-old to move through matches efficiently and with minimal pressure. She has faced only 25 break points in her six wins.
Rybakina's run to her first major title last summer at Wimbledon was entirely uncharted territory. Before that event, she had been past the Round of 16 at a Slam once. With that experience behind her, Rybakina admits her march to the final in Melbourne has been far easier, despite having to face down three consecutive major champions to do it.
"Everything was new at Wimbledon," Rybakina said. "Now I more or less understand what to expect.
"It's nervous no matter what because it's a final. Also semis, you always nervous before the match. But this time I think I was focusing more on the match, what I have to do, and maybe not to think what's going to come or what's going to happen around."