It’s all working out as planned at the Brisbane International and Auckland’s ASB Classic, where the top two seeds at both events are all through to Saturday’s semifinals.

But in Brisbane, No.1 Aryna Sabalenka faces a stiff challenge from two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka. No.2 Elena Rybakina faces upstart Czech teenager Linda Noskova.

In Auckland, it’s No.1 Coco Gauff in an all-American contest against No.4 Emma Navarro. No.2 Elina Svitolina meets unseeded Wang Xiyu.

Yes, please, we’ll have another serving:


Azarenka had just upended No.3 seed Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 and she was asked in her on-court interview, what is it about Australia?

“The Aussies!” Azarenka said, drawing applause from the crowd. “Such an incredible welcome every time. Our seasons are so long. But for me, after a few months at home, I’m ready to compete.”

You better believe it. The 34-year-old mother has two Brisbane titles and another in Sydney to go with those major crowns in Melbourne. Five of her 21 career titles have come Down Under, including the inaugural event in Brisbane, 15 years ago.

Azarenka, the No.8 seed, isn’t the only one to have cornered the Aussie market, because Sabalenka is your reigning Australian Open champion. She’s working on a phenomenal 14-0 run Down Under, going back to titles last year in Adelaide and Melbourne.

Sabalenka defeats Kasatkina in straight sets to reach Brisbane semis

Ostapenko seemed destined for a third-set tiebreak against Azarenka, but her last service game featured two double faults and a final overhead into the net. Azarenka finished with 16 aces and only two double faults.

Later, Sabalenka was a 6-1, 6-4 winner over No.5 Daria Kasatkina and, quite frankly, has looked marvelous. She’s dropped nine games in three matches.

Afterward, she sent Azarenka a compliment.

“I was growing watching her,” Sabalenka said. “That’s amazing after giving birth, come back on a high definitely. Definitely inspiring me so much. Give me belief that maybe one day I can have baby and come back and play on the high level.”

Sabalenka has won three of their four previous matches.

Rybakina’s journey into the semifinals required only 32 minutes, when No.11 Anastasia Potapova retired with an abdominal injury after losing the first set 6-1.

Noskova, meanwhile, laid down an impressive win over fellow teen Mirra Andreeva, 7-5, 6-3. At 19, she’s already ranked No.40 and moving up quickly. She, too, likes Australia. Noskova was a finalist last year in Adelaide -- a breakout run as a No.102-ranked qualifier. The Czech is more of a known factor 12 months on, and has faced the task of defending her biggest points haul to date with aplomb.

Rybakina won their only previous match, in straight sets, last year in the Roland Garros second round.

Schedule of play

  • No.2 Elena Rybakina vs. Linda Noskova (not before 1 p.m. local; 10 p.m. ET)
  • No.1 Aryna Sabalenka vs. No.8 Victoria Azarenka (not before 6:30 p.m.; 3:30 a.m. ET)


Gauff, who won the US Open last fall, was a 6-1, 6-01 winner over No.8 Varvara Gracheva -- in a tidy 53 minutes.

“I thought I served really well, definitely the best this tournament,” she said in her on-court interview. “It’s something I worked on in the offseason.”

The results are starting to show: Gauff had five aces, won 29 of 40 service points and did not face a break point. 

Gauff, still only 19, has dropped only 11 games in three matches. She’s also riding an 8-0 streak at Auckland.

Navarro, a rising 22-year-old, defeated No.7 Petra Martic 6-4, 6-3 to advance to her first semifinal since San Diego last year. She is a former NCAA singles champion.

Gauff and Navarro have never played.

Svitolina defeated No.5 Marie Bouzkova 6-0, 6-3, while Wang was a 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-4 winner over Diane Parry.

This is another first-time match.

Schedule of play

  • No.1 Coco Gauff vs. No.4 Emma Navarro (3 p.m. local; 9 p.m. ET)
  • No.2 Elina Svitolina vs. Wang Xiyu (not before 5:30 p.m.; 11:30 p.m. ET)