MELBOURNE -- Saturday's Australian Open pits defending champion Aryna Sabalenka against No.12 seed Zheng Qinwen. It also features the two coaches who went head-to-head in the last Grand Slam final: Anton Dubrov and Pere Riba. 

At the US Open, it was Riba in the coaching box for Coco Gauff, as the 19-year-old American came from a set down to stop Sabalenka and Dubrov in three sets. 

Can Riba pull off the upset again?

Zheng Qinwen learning to harness ambition after Riba reunion

Riba had coached Zheng since she was 17 in Barcelona. He helped take her from outside the Top 200 to inside the Top 20, and she was voted Newcomer of the Year in 2022. The two split after the French Open last year, and he was quickly snapped up by Gauff. When Riba's mother fell ill, he parted ways after Gauff's incredible U.S. summer and returned home to spend more time with family.

After his mother's health improved, Riba got the call from Zheng. They re-teamed in hopes of taking care of unfinished business. 

"I didn't expect that, to come back with him after the season now, but sometimes the destiny just [finds] the way and makes everything happen."

- Zheng Qinwen

"I think that Qinwen, I never see in my life a player that with work ethic that she has, that always is ready for practice, really hard worker," Riba said. 

Riba recalled his early days with Zheng when she was still a teenager. He scheduled 7 a.m. practices, spending all day on the court, day after after day.

"I was thinking that after four or five days, she's gonna say, I'm tired," Riba said. "To be honest, I have to say sometimes we are getting angry [at each other], because she wants to do it more, and me, I have to stop to her. I never [saw] in my life this. 

"Then you can imagine the dreams that Qinwen has, that she really wants to be there in the top. I'm really, really happy for her, because she deserves it."

A former ATP player himself, Riba is under no illusions as he prepares his charge for her first major final. Sabalenka is the favorite on Saturday. The two have played just once, a 6-1, 6-4 win over Sabalenka at the US Open, but they did practice together earlier this week in Melbourne. Both players have big, heavy forehands and serves that can control the match. 

Both women are looking to match the trailblazing countrywomen that came before them. Zheng is working to join Li Na as China's only Grand Slam champions.

A win for Sabalenka would make her the first player to defend her title at Melbourne Park since Victoria Azarenka. 

"It's just that mentality of we're here to play to win, not to not lose," Sabalenka's physical trainer Jason Stacy said. "So if we think about we're defending something, trying to keep something we already have, that's just trying to manage your time and energy and playing it safe and making sure you protect what you have. We don't care about that anymore.

Why Sabalenka autographs her trainer's head before matches

"We're here to play to win. She has her strategy. She has her approach to things, and it's her job to dictate the patterns, dictate the rhythm, and just make sure that regardless what happens, she's here playing to win, not worrying about what happened yesterday or the day before or last year." 

Sabalenka owns the experience quotient in spades. This will be her third major final and second in Melbourne. She has won her past 13 matches at Melbourne Park, winning 26 of 27 sets. Only one player was able to take more than three games in a set during the fortnight. 

"But the evolution of Qinwen is, every month she's better and better and better," Riba said. "Still she is so young. She's improving every single month has a lot of margin to improve. She arrives with very good feelings. She arrives really motivated. And then if she plays her game, she will have her chances.

"But of course all of us, we know Aryna, and we know it's going to be a really complicated match."

"It's not about defending, because this one is a new one. It's always a new one."

- Anton Dubrov

The key for Sabalenka on Saturday? According to Dubrov, it's actually not that complicated. He credited Sabalenka's improved ability to stay more disciplined and stick to the process and game plan throughout the fortnight. 

One more to go.

"As always, dominate," Dubrov said. "It's always really simple. 

"Because they both play aggressive, but I think Zheng, she's trying to get more to the longer rallies, try to keep her own rhythm. And I think with Aryna, and with Zheng the same, who's going to be the first to take this step, who's going to take this dominance from the first point, who's going to be this one who push more.

"Nothing really I can say a lot right now, but who will find this from the beginning with less emotions, more with the plan."