Sabalenka beats Gauff, faces Zheng in Australian Open final

Photo of Sabalenka while beat Gauff in Australian Open semi-final.

Throughout the past year, Aryna Sabalenka has systematically strengthened her standing as one of the dominant figures in her sport. While honing her formidable power, the Belarusian has also incorporated unwavering consistency into her skill set. Despite notable advancements, she grappled with nerves in critical matches.

Confronting Coco Gauff at Rod Laver Arena, the reigning champion was keenly aware of potential challenges, reminiscent of their encounter at the US Open just four months earlier. However, this time, Sabalenka maintained her poise in a tense and high-quality clash befitting two champions. Ultimately, she outperformed the fourth seed with a 7-6 (2), 6-4 victory, securing her return to the Australian Open final.

Sabalenka, seeded second, is gearing up for a formidable match against a highly promising young talent. In the upcoming final, she will face Zheng Qinwen from China, the 12th seed, who showcased her prowess by convincingly defeating Dayana Yastremska 6-4, 6-4 on Thursday night, earning her first appearance in a grand-slam final.

A year after her breakthrough in grand slams, Sabalenka has capitalized on her initial success to reach new heights. With an impressive track record of making it to six consecutive grand slam semi-finals, she is now aiming for her third final in the last five majors. The 25-year-old is also eyeing a historic achievement as the first player to successfully defend the Australian Open title since her compatriot Victoria Azarenka in 2013, and notably, she has yet to drop a set in the tournament.

Recognizing the challenges of defending a major title for the first time, Sabalenka, sporting a smile, commented on the potential pressure: “Of course, that’s tough, but worst case you’re gonna lose it next year, nothing to defend. So I’m not ignoring the pressure. I’m just shifting my focus, and it’s working well so far. It’s one more to go, and I’ll do my best.”

In the major proudly positioning itself as the Asia-Pacific Grand Slam, Zheng becomes the second Chinese player to advance to the final. The 21-year-old is following the path of her idol, Li Na, who clinched her second grand slam title at the Australian Open exactly ten years ago. Sharing her exhilaration, Zheng commented, “It feels unbelievable. I’m super excited to have such an excellent performance today and reach the final.”

Just four months prior in New York, Gauff showcased outstanding defensive prowess, defeating Sabalenka and securing her inaugural grand slam title. Gauff’s remarkable court coverage narrowed the playing area for Sabalenka, who faced mental challenges in trying to break down Gauff.

In a rare event – the first since 2011 – the US Open finalists immediately squared off again in Australia. The clash between the world’s best offense and defense commenced with Sabalenka establishing dominance early on. Practically every baseline point unfolded on her terms; she served exceptionally well, with only two missed first serves in the initial eight games, complemented by a blend of potent and disciplined aggression.

At 5-3, 30-15, having missed just two first serves in the set, Sabalenka visibly tightened up as Gauff absorbed immense pressure skillfully and countered effectively. Gauff’s usually vulnerable forehand held up impressively, and she unleashed powerful serves when needed.

Despite facing a 3-5 deficit, Gauff served for the set at 6-5, but errors crept into her forehand. Sabalenka managed to endure, regrouping and re-establishing baseline control with an exceptional tie-break to secure the set. In the second set, both players showcased high-quality competition after the turbulence and drama of the initial set.

Over eight games, both maintained their serves and displayed composed play under pressure. Gauff resisted Sabalenka until a standout return game from the No. 2 seed at 4-4 proved decisive in this intense battle.

Reflecting on the match, Sabalenka commented, “It was an incredible match. She’s a great player, and there are always tough battles against her. I think the key was that I could stay focused no matter what, regardless of the score; I just kept trying my best and fought for it.”

Despite the defeat, Gauff looked back on her last grand slam tournament as a teenager with satisfaction. She has impressively built on her success at the US Open by immediately embarking on another remarkable run, and there is undoubtedly more to come.

Emphasizing the positives, Gauff said, “A lot of positives to take. I didn’t feel like I played bad. I just felt there were certain points that I just didn’t win. I prefer this match over the last one I played. So it’s tough with the result, but I’m trying to look at the positives.”


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