The first set tiebreak said it all – Magda Linette lost it 7-1 and made no mistake. Until then, it was a matter of toe to toe and anyone’s guess who would leave Rod Laver Arena An appointment to see Elena Rybakinaon Saturday.
Aryna Sabalenka generally doesn’t shift through the gears, mainly because she starts off at full throttle and keeps her foot down throughout the match. But there was something else, supersonic or otherwise, that she kept in her back pocket for Thursday’s semi-final match.
Perhaps the impetus for her highlight in this moment is that she is a Grand Slam semi-finalist and has been defeated three times. She might have won all 18 sets she played in 2023 and wasn’t about to drop any of them now. Or it could just be a manifestation of the new calm she says he feels on the court – evident midway through the tiebreaker when she began her move before pausing to reset and then serving an ace.
Be that as it may, the fifth-seeded Belarusian executed the cleanest tiebreaker in this one Australian Open Championship She then used it to propel herself all the way to a 7-6(1), 6-2 victory that confirms she will play in her first Grand Final.
“I didn’t start really well,” said Sabalenka. “Then in the tiebreaker, I found my rhythm and just started to believe in myself, and started hitting the ball. The tennis was great from me in the tiebreaker. I’m so glad I was able to get that win.”
An unranked 30-year-old who has finally found her place in the working end of a major tournament, Lynette has bowled out her fair share of big hitters at Melbourne Park. Karolina Pliskova and Caroline Garcia hit dust along the way and provided good grip for Sabalenka’s powerful performance. The pole’s defensive skills absorbed a lot of bombs and her feet allowed her to redirect what she had absorbed to the desired location, especially from a backhand.
There were no real holes in her game, which meant she would either find some on Sabalenka or push it to another level. The odds were stacked in her opponent’s favor and the pre-match contrast in body language made for an interesting subplot. In the bowels of Rod Laver Arena, Sabalenka completed a warm-up with a Swiss ball and the player looked relaxed and unfazed by the moment of truth that awaited him. Lynette walked in with his head bowed slightly, his gaze fixed straight ahead, and he looked tense.
In court, the initial exchanges did not match that picture. Linette started by breaking Sabalenka’s serve to love and then held to serve, at which point the latter won by a single point and committed five negative faults. Was Sabalenka too loose? Was Linette more focused than nervous? But Sabalenka held her nerve and found her set, breaking back 2-2 before playing a game until halftime.
She found her hunger in the second set, crushing some forehand winners down the line, and dragging Linette off the court with one or two punches. Linette tried everything to stop the inevitable, moving well and trying to slice pretty for the sake of variety. She just ran out of ideas, forcing a three point break while down 4-1 only to save and then serve to stay in the match.
Sabalenka tried to get it done too quickly, tried to go too big at the expense of accuracy and knocked out two match points through unforced errors. After Linette held up, she proceeded to finish off the match, following up with another ace of those intimidatingly fast forehands she used in her “Good Genetics”.
It was a showing befitting a game that has cleaned up so well in the past year. That includes sending it, which you’ll need to have against it Rybakina, who beat the up-and-coming Victoria Azarenka in the other semi-final.
“She’s an amazing player,” Sabalenka said of the Wimbledon champion. “She plays great tennis, is very aggressive and has already had a Grand Slam, so she kind of had that experience playing the final. It would be great. I’m really looking forward to this final.”
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