Most of the metrics suggest Aryna Sabalenka will defend her Australian Open title on Saturday, Jan. 27 at 7:30 p.m. (3:30 a.m. ET) against Zheng Qinwen.

The 25-year-old Sabalenka knocked off Coco Gauff in Thursday’s semifinals and has now won 13 consecutive matches in Melbourne. She’s the first player to reach back-to-back finals since Serena Williams (2016-17) and could be the first to repeat since Victoria Azarenka (2012-13).

Zheng is seeded No.12 and Sabalenka will be the first player ranked among the Hologic WTA Tour’s Top 50 she’s met here in seven matches. At 21, this is her first major final. That’s a big ask.

“I would say emotionally I’ll be very ready to fight,” Sabalenka told reporters. “Not going crazy. Because when you play [your] first final, you kind of get emotional and rush things sometimes.

“When you’re third time in the finals, you’re, like, `OK, it’s a final, it’s OK. It’s just another match,’ and you’re able to separate yourself from that thing.”

But here’s the thing: 

Sabalenka won the only previous meeting against Zheng, 6-1, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of last year’s US Open. But four months later, can Zheng channel the hunger for revenge?  

“I think the challenge is everywhere,” Zheng said. “Everybody needs to face the pressure in the final. That’s one of my challenges. I need to deal with it.”

Who will win? Check out the case for each player from Alex Macpherson and Greg Garber and then cast your vote at the bottom: 

Advantage, Sabalenka

So many demons exorcised for the World No.2 after beating Gauff in the semifinals.

Sabalenka got the payback she’s talked about so publicly. Don’t look now, but in her past six Grand Slam tournaments, she has reached six semifinals and three finals.

A few years ago, opponents could usually count on concentration lapses, nerves and tentative play in big moments. Today, those hiatuses are increasingly rare. There were three critical junctures in her victory over Gauff, and Sabalenka responded each time.

  • After blowing a 5-2 lead and a set point at 5-4, Sabalenka dropped four straight games. Gauff was serving for the set at 6-5 and led 30-0 when she framed a forehand. Sabalenka, steady and determined, won four straight points to force the tiebreak.
  • And then she won the first four points and, ultimately, finished off the set by winning 11 of 13 points.
  • Serving at 3-4 in the second set, Sabalenka fell into a love-30 hole, and you could feel the tension. Three massive forehand winners and a thumping backhand brought her back to 4-all and, after failing to convert four break chances, she nailed the fifth.

Let’s review Sabalenka’s six matches here: She’s won all 12 sets -- and Gauff is the only player to get past three games. That’s really all you need to know.

Her demeanor, though, deserves a Most Improved Award. In the past, you could see Sabalenka’s frustration in slumping shoulders, hostile glares at her box and a steady stream of muttering. On Thursday, when her service motion was interrupted by a screaming fan, she actually laughed. And several times following an error she offered a wry smile.

“Even when the score was 6-5, 30-love to her serve,” she said later, “I was just like, `OK, I’m going to do my best, try to stay in this set.’ ”

And so, Alex, this is the Sabalenka 2.0 that Zheng is up against. Again, a big ask. -- Greg Garber

Advantage, Zheng

Zheng Qinwen has always believed she belongs here. When I interviewed her two years ago, soon after she'd broken the Top 100, she told me: "I saw people the same age as me much more in front of me. Not their level, just their ranking and their results. Inside I always believed I could be better, I just had to do it. I wanted to do something great in tennis." 

Now, she has. On the 10th anniversary to the day of Li Na's 2014 Australian Open win, Zheng became the second Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final. But she was quick to emphasize that this wasn't the achievement she'd been aiming for.

"My dream is not just the final," she told the press. "I know this little distance is still far away. There is still something that needs to go on."

To most others, Zheng will go into the final as the underdog against defending champion Sabalenka. After all, Sabalenka dismissed her for the loss of only five games in the US Open quarterfinals four months ago. But this fortnight, Zheng has impressed with her coolness under pressure and her ability to win without having to peak.

Zheng's formidable first serve is still the foundation of her game -- her 48 aces and 79% winning percentage behind it are both tournament-leading stats -- but remarkably, she hasn't necessarily needed it. Her first-serve percentage has hovered between 44% and 56%, but she's raised her base level high enough that this hasn't mattered yet.

The 21-year-old Zheng was the highest-ranked player left in her half of the draw and de facto favorite to reach the final, as early as the fourth round -- but if anything, her play has become more authoritative since then.

Despite some difficult moments in her semifinal against Dayana Yastremska, what stood out was how clinical Zheng was once she found a rhythm.

Talking of Yastremska, she's someone else who doesn't think Zheng will be the underdog. The Ukrainian has played both Zheng and Sabalenka, and her assessment of Zheng's ability was clear:

"If she will be able to stay stable emotionally, and if she will be able to hold her level up like she did today pretty well in important moments, she can win," Yastremska told the press. "And she can win, I will say, even pretty easy." -- Alex Macpherson