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The tie-break in the first set said it all – Magda Linette lost 7-1 and didn’t do anything wrong. By then it was toe to toe and anyone can only guess who would be leaving Rod Laver Arena with a date with Elena Rybakina on Saturday.
Aryna Sabalenka generally doesn’t shift through the gears, mainly because she’s flat out and going full throttle throughout the match. But there was another supersonic something she kept in her back pocket for Thursday’s semifinals.
The motivation for bringing it out at that moment may have been that she’s reached three Slam semifinals and been beaten three times. It could have been that she had won all 18 sets she played in 2023 and wasn’t planning on dropping one now. Or it could simply be a manifestation of the new calm she’s feeling on the court – evidently midway through the tiebreak when she launched her serving motion before pausing to reset and then laying down an ace.
Whatever it was, the fifth seed of Belarus executed the cleanest tiebreak of this Australian Open and then used it to propel themselves to a 7-6 (1), 6-2 win that confirmed they were in their will play first major finals.
“I didn’t really start well,” said Sabalenka. “Then I found my rhythm in the tie-break and just started trusting myself, started going for the shots. It was great tennis from me in the tie-break. I’m super happy that I was able to achieve this win.”
Linette, the unseeded 30-year-old who had finally found her place at the business end of a major tournament, had prevailed against her fair share of heavyweights at Melbourne Park. Karolina Pliskova and Caroline Garcia bit the dust on their way and turned Sabalenka’s powerhouse into a good fist. The Pole’s defensive skills absorbed much of the barrage, and her footwork allowed her to redirect what she’d soaked up where she wanted, particularly off her backhand.
There were no real gaps in her game, meaning she would either find some in sabalenkas or take them to another level. The odds were in her opponent’s favor and the contrast in body language before the game made for an interesting subplot. In the bowels of Rod Laver Arena, Sabalenka did warm-ups with a Swiss ball and the gaze of a player loose and unfazed by the moment of truth that awaited him. Linette entered with her head bowed slightly, her eyes fixed, and her expression tense.
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The initial exchange of blows on the pitch did not correspond to this picture. Linette started by breaking Sabalenka’s love at love and then holding. By this time the latter had won a single point and made five unforced errors. Was Sabalenka too loose? Was Linette more focused than nervous? But Sabalenka kept her nerves and found her range, countered to 2:2 and played game after game until the tie-break.
She found her hunger in the second set, crunching some forehand winners down the line and dragging Linette off the court with double strikes. Linette tried everything to stop the inevitable, moving well and attempting a nice chip for variety. She just ran out of ideas, forcing three break points while down 4-1 just to save them and then serving to stay in the match.Magda Linette cuts a bleak figure during her defeat. Photo: James Gourley/REX/Shutterstock
Sabalenka tried to finish it off too quickly, attempted to go too big at the expense of accuracy, and threw away two match points from unforced errors. After holding, Linette set about finishing the match, following an ace with another of those terribly fast forehands that she attributed to “good genetics.”
It was a performance worthy of a game that has cleaned them up nicely over the past year. That includes her serve, which she’ll need against Rybakina, who defeated a resurgent Victoria Azarenka in the other semifinal.
“She’s a great player,” Sabalenka said of the Wimbledon champion. “She plays great tennis, super aggressive and she’s already won a Grand Slam so she had that experience playing the final. That’ll be great. I am really looking forward to this final.”
Australian Open: Aryna Sabalenka knocks aside Linette to reach first Slam final – The Guardian – S Chronicles
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