Tennis: Sabalenka to face Rybakina in bruising Australian Open final

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 28 2023 11:07 AM

Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan. Fazry Ismail and Joel Carrett, EPA-EFE.
Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan. Fazry Ismail and Joel Carrett, EPA-EFE

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina will meet on Saturday in an Australian Open final which promises to be an exhibition of powerful hitting and big serving.

Belarusian fifth seed Sabalenka is regarded as a slight favourite, although it is Moscow-born Kazakh Rybakina who has the experience of having already won a Grand Slam.

The 23-year-old won Wimbledon last year and acknowledges that her serve is her "weapon". If that fires under the lights at Rod Laver Arena, Sabalenka could be in trouble.

Rybakina has sent down 45 aces in reaching the decider at Melbourne Park, easily more than anyone else in the women's draw.

"It's going to be a tough battle," Rybakina said after defeating two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka in the semi-finals, having disposed of top-ranked Iga Swiatek in the fourth round.

Rybakina will be roared on from the sidelines by her sister and parents, who were not court-side when she triumphed at Wimbledon last year.

She is taking extra inspiration from their presence.

"It's the first time they're all together here. I'm super happy that we can spend evenings together and they can watch me live," she said.

The 24-year-old Sabalenka is one win away from a breakthrough first Grand Slam crown and is in exceptional form.

She has won all 10 matches she has contested this season and has not dropped a set in 2023, her power game overwhelming opponents.

She is more brutal than Rybakina, her muscles generating spin and driving the ball through the court.

It is a trait Sabalenka has always possessed, but it was often stymied by her fractious nerves. But not this year.

Sabalenka has turned it around by working tirelessly last year with her coaches, a sports psychologist and a biomechanical specialist. 

"I was trying to do less screaming after some bad points or some errors," Sabalenka said. "I was just trying to hold myself, stay calm, just think about the next point.

"I'm still screaming 'C'mon!' and all that stuff, just less negative emotions."

But Rybakina's coach Stefano Vukov believes her run to the title at Wimbledon will give her the edge on Saturday.

"I think experience is a big factor. Once you go through the rollercoaster ride once, you know what to expect, more or less, emotionally," Vukov said.

"I think Aryna is an extremely powerful player, great forehand," he added. 

"Can have a great serving day, can have a bad serving day, something we will try to capitalise on tomorrow. 

"I think who serves well tomorrow goes through. That's my feeling."

© Agence France-Presse