Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan, reached her second final in a span of three major tournaments by beating Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (4), 6-3 at Melbourne Park on Thursday, signaling a rapid rise toward the top of tennis. “Everything was new at Wimbledon,” Rybakina said after hitting nine aces in the semifinals to raise her tournament-leading total to 44. “Now I more or less understand what to expect.”
That could come in handy Saturday. That is when she will face No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, who reached her first Grand Slam title match at age 24 by beating unseeded Magda Linette 7-6 (1), 6-2 in Thursday’s second semifinal. Sabalenka improved to 10-0 in 2023 and has won all 20 sets she’s contested this season. More importantly, the victory over Linette gave Sabalenka her first taste of success in a Slam semi after going 0-3 at that stage until now, losing each previous previous attempt by a 6-4 score in the third set.
Rybakina and Sabalenka employ a somewhat similar brand of tennis, relying on big serves and big hitting at the baseline. Sabalenka is far less cautious, though, and her penchant for highrisk, high-reward play was evident against Linette, who had never before been past the third round in 29 appearances at majors. Sabalenka finished with a whopping 33-9 edge in winners, but also compiled more unforced errors than Linette.
The key to both semifinals, really, was a first-set tiebreaker. Azarenka lost the mark on her strokes, for the most part, making things smoother for Rybakina, while Sabalenka raced to a 6-0 lead in hers. It wasn’t the case that each and every shot Sabalenka hit landed right on a line, but it must have seemed that way to Linette.