Australian Open: Sabalenka beats Linette to reach first Grand Slam final, to face Rybakina

Melbourne, Jan 26 (IANS) No.5 seed Aryna Sabalenka booked her place in her first Grand Slam final with a 7-6(1), 6-2 win over Magda Linette at the Australian Open semifinals, here on Thursday.

Sabalenka, who claimed her 11th career title at the Adelaide International 1 three weeks ago, has now won 10 matches in a row, including a career-best 20 consecutive sets. The longest match winning streak of her career to date is 15, encompassing three titles at Ostrava 2020, Linz 2020 and Abu Dhabi 2021.

The 24-year-old had lost all three of her previous Grand Slam semifinals: to Karolina Pliskova at Wimbledon 2021, Leylah Fernandez at the US Open 2021 and Iga Swiatek at the US Open 2022.

She becomes the fifth player in the Open Era to reach a major final following three or more semifinal losses, joining Gabriela Sabatini, Zina Garrison, Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capriati.

Sabalenka will face Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in a final that will guarantee a brand new winner of the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup. Sabalenka has won all three of their previous meetings in three sets: at Wuhan 2019, Abu Dhabi 2021 and Wimbledon 2021.

The 1-hour, 33-minute contest was Sabalenka’s third win in as many meetings over Linette, but easily the tightest. She came from a break down in the first set, and to close out a tense ending.

The fourth game of the first set was key. Linette had come out of the blocks with a clear counterpunching game plan and strong serving, while impatient errors flowed from Sabalenka’s racquet. But with Linette serving at 2-1, 40-0, Sabalenka calmed her game down, and broke back for 2-2 with some patient point construction.

Linette maintained her high level through the rest of the set, but Sabalenka’s weight of shot enabled her to kick up a gear and dominate the tiebreak.

In the second set, Sabalenka raced out to a quick double-break lead, then showed resilience to hold off any potential turning points. At 4-1, she escaped three break-back points, the third with one of her six total aces, to hold for 5-1.

Linette fended off three match points in the next game as Sabalenka’s error count started to rise again. However, Sabalenka served out the match at the first time of asking, converting her fourth match point with a solid one-two punch.

In total, Sabalenka fired 33 winners to Linette’s nine, outweighing her 25 unforced errors.

–IANS

ak/

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