Aryna Sabalenka outclasses Magda Linette to reach maiden grand-slam final
Aryna Sabalenka surged into the Australian Open final with a 7-6 (1), 6-2 win over unseeded Pole Magda Linette on Thursday to extend the red-hot Belarusian's unbeaten start to the year and book a clash with Elena Rybakina.
Adelaide champion Sabalenka has not dropped a set en route to 10 wins in 2023 but made a poor start in chilly conditions on Rod Laver Arena, dropping her serve to love in the opening game before breaking back with two blistering backhands.
The fifth seed heaped the pressure on Linette's serve in the first-set tiebreak with her power and precision to pull away and wrapped it up when her opponent sent one long, before taking full control in the next set with an early break.
Sabalenka had failed to get over the semi-final hurdle on three previous occasions at Grand Slams but was not to be denied this time, as she raced ahead 4-1 and saved three breakpoints to close out the contest with a forehand winner.
"Yeah, she played great tennis," Sabalenka said afterward. "I wasn't feeling my rhythm quite well at the beginning. She was moving really well, putting everything back. I felt a little bit under pressure, which I expect.
"But I started telling myself that I have to move a little bit better. I try to focus on my movement. As I started focusing on my movement, I started feeling the rhythm better.
"After, I don't know, 3-all or something, I started feeling much better. It was a little bit not easier to play, but it was about the game, not about the nerves and all this stuff."
Up next for Sabalenka is Russian-born Kazakh Rybakina, after the Wimbledon champion got past another Belarusian and two-times Melbourne Park winner Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (4), 6-3 in the first semi-final.
Sabalenka vs Linette, as it happened
Join us on Saturday!
Telegraph Sport will have coverage of the women's final on Saturday morning from 7.30am.
It promises to be a match dominated by power.
Friday is all about the men's semi-finals
What’s your final prediction? 🤔@AustralianOpen | #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/zaoi31fSbz
— ATP Tour (@atptour) January 26, 2023
Sabalenka on her showdown with Rybakina
Elena is an amazing player. Super aggressive, and she already has a grand slam, it’s going to be great,
I’m really looking forward to this final.
I’m super happy, she’s an incredible player. She played great tennis. I’m super happy right now, thank you [to the fans] for staying late and supporting us, the atmosphere was incredible.
I didn’t start really well but in the [first-set] tiebreak, I found my rhythm, started trusting myself, started going for my shots.
The winning moment for Sabalenka
Stunning, Sabalenka 🙌
The No.5 seed will play Elena Rybakina for the women's singles title!@SabalenkaA • @wwos • @espn • @eurosport • @wowowtennis • #AusOpen • #AO2023 pic.twitter.com/gjjCFJZ0SD
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 26, 2023
The Australian Open women's final
On Saturday we will see Aryna Sabalenka vs Elena Rybakina.
Two huge ball strikers. Expect plenty of aces, winner and errors!
Such a similar match. All about that 1st set, conquering nerves, hitting out. Cld be some final 💥 🙌
— Susie (@pandsreid) January 26, 2023
The Grand Slam final that has threatened to come for Sabalenka for a while...has come. Congrats to her.
And also to Linette for an incredible tournament.
Huge part of the match decided in the 1st set today and Sabalenka was lights out in the TB.
— Ravi Ubha (@raviubha) January 26, 2023
Good run from Magda Linette comes to an end, but she’ll creditably be just outside the top 20 after this. Calmly closed out by a rampant Aryna Sabalenka. #AusOpen
— Archie (@archieoreilly_) January 26, 2023
Linette* 6-7 (1), 2-6 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)
Bit of luck for Sabalenka as her backhand clips the net and the ball drops just short enough to prevent Linette getting the ball back in play, 15-0.
Sabalenka double fault, 15-15. Her second of the match. She then responds with a 131km/h forehand winner, 30-15.
Very tense forehand into the net by Sabalenka, 30-30. Sabalenka ace, 40-30.
Sabalenka forehand winner. GAME SET MATCH SABALENKA.
Linette 6-7 (1), 2-5 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)
Linette backhand into the tramline, 0-15. Another unforced backhand error by Linette, 0-30.
Sabalenka goes after Linette's second serve but misses the line with her backhand, 15-30.
Incredible power from Sabalenka, equally great defence by Linette but Sabalenka finishes the point with a backhand winner. Two match points.
Sabalenka nets a backhand on the first. She then sends a forehand long on the second, deuce.
Linette backhand into the net, third match point. Well played by Linette. She makes Sabalenka play an extra ball and the Belarusian breaks down, deuce.
Sabalenka forehand return into the net, ad Linette. Linette turns defence into offence again and Sabalenka sends a forehand long.
Sabalenka to serve for the match next.
Linette* 6-7 (1), 1-5 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)
Sabalenka misses by quite a way with a forehand, 15-30. Linette backhand winner down the line, two break points.
Sabalenka gets just enough angle and power on her forehand, pushing Linette wide and into an error.
Linette has a look at a forehand up the line but nets, deuce. She'll be furious with that miss.
Linette gets her forehand up the line right on this occasion and Sabalenka nets a defensive backhand. Ace No 5 from Sabalenka to save another break point.
Sabalenka places a forehand behind Linette and it spins away for a winner. Big first serve by Sabalenka and Linette can't get the ball back in play.
Linette 6-7 (1), 1-4 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)
Sabalenka continues to force errors from Linette and moves to 0-40 when Linette nets a backhand.
Linette looks a forlorn figure but manages to save the first break point. But not the second as Sabalenka shows some finesse to go with the raw power. She attacks the net and slices a backhand into the corner which wrong-foots Linette.
Latest update from Simon Briggs in Melbourne
As we approach 11pm, the stadium is showing quite a few empty seats. I feel like the fans can see which way the wind is blowing, especially now that Sabalenka is a break up in the second set.
She's now played 19 sets in 2023 and won the lot.
Linette* 6-7 (1), 1-3 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)
Linette is having to cover so much ground to stay in rallies at the moment and is looking flustered.
Sabalenka moves to 40-15 easily and wins her third game in a row when Linette sends a backhand wide.
Linette 6-7 (1), 1-2 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)
A series of deep groundstrokes from Sabalenka and Linette pushes a backhand long, 30-30.
Sabalenka exploits a short second serve by Linette, taking charge of the rally and finishing with a forehand winner, 30-40.
Another deep and powerful return by Sabalenka and Linette sends a backhand long.
Linette* 6-7 (1), 1-1 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)
Ace No 4 from Sabalenka, 30-15. But she then nets a backhand, 30-30. Another big "come on" from Sabalenka after a forehand error and holding serve.
Second set: Linette 6-7 (1), 1-0 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)
Poor drop shot by Linette, Sabalenka runs up to it easily and finishes with a forehand winner, 0-15. Linette forehand goes long, 0-30.
Careless errors from Sabalenka lets Linette back into the game, 30-all. And Linette survives that scare to hold when Sabalenka makes a forehand error.
What a perfect tiebreak from Sabalenka, raising her level when she needed to. Linette gave a great account of herself in that set though, good match.
— Harry (@_harry91) January 26, 2023
One of the highest-quality sets I can remember from both Linette and Sabalenka, who needed to be so good to win points and *was* to win a near-perfect tiebreaker 7-1.
— David Kane (@DKTNNS) January 26, 2023
Sabalenka too powerful for Linette in that tiebreak
— CF🥶 (@cforrest58) January 26, 2023
Latest update from Simon Briggs in Melbourne
What. A. Tie-Break. Sabalenka has the power and athleticism to become tennis's apex predator, and there was something leonine about the way she ripped through the first six points with majestic winners.
Personally, I love watching her play.
Linette 6-7 (1) Sabalenka - TIEBREAK
Sabalenka lob drifts long, 1-6. Defensive forehand by Linette into the net, 1-7.
Fantastic tiebreak from Sabalenka.
Linette 6-6 Sabalenka - TIEBREAK
Sabalenka forehand winner down the line, 0-1. Big Sabalenka backhand down the line and Linette can't get the ball back into play, 0-2. A bruising backhand into the corner from Sabalenka, 0-3. Sabalenka's first serve unreturned by Linette, 0-4.
Sabalenka ace, 0-5. Sabalenka forehand winner, 0-6.
The Belarusian has gone up a gear in this breaker.
Linette 6-6 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)
First double fault of the match by Linette comes at a very bad time, 0-30. Sabalenka goes for a forehand down the line but nets.
Linette forehand winner, 30-30. Big point coming up.
Immaculate depth on the forehand by Linette and Sabalenka can't get the ball back into play.
Sabalenka forehand winner, deuce. Linette backhand up the line, clips the net but finds the sideline. She holds and it is tiebreak time.
Latest update from Simon Briggs in Melbourne
There's a lot of love on Rod Laver Arena for Magda Linette. She's been on the wrong end of a bullying display from Sabalenka, and people clearly see her as David taking on Goliath.
Linette* 5-6 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)
Very played Sabalenka. She keeps her head amid good defence from Linette and holds to 15 with ace, her second of the match.
She has guaranteed herself a tiebreak.
Linette 5-5 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)
Linette absorbs the power from Sabalenka and sends a forehand down the line for a winner, 15-0. More unforced errors from the racket of Sabalenka and Linette holds to 15.
Really impressive tennis by Linette. She is more than holding her own.
Linette* 4-5 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)
Another crushing backhand winner by Sabalenka, 40-0. And she holds with an ace. Scoreboard pressure on Linette now.
Linette 4-4 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)
Shot of the match from Linette as she leaps into the air and powers a forehand winner down the line. And the Pole holds when Sabalenka makes an unforced error on the forehand side.
Linette* 3-4 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)
Big first serve followed by a backhand down the line from Sabalenka, 30-0. Great time on the backhand from Linette and she draws the error from Sabalenka.
Sabalenka steps in and strikes a forehand into the open court, 40-15. Sabalenka wears down Linette again in another bruising rally and draws the error to hold.
Linette 3-3 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)
Sabalenka backhand into the net, 30-15. Sabalenka is standing well inside the baseline to return serve but Linette keeps her composure and holds to 15.
Latest update from Simon Briggs in Melbourne
As Aryna Sabalenka finds her rhythm - both physically and sonically - it's worth remembering her first Australian Open appearance in 2018, when she lost to Ashleigh Barty in the first round amid barracking from the fans, who started mocking her loud grunts.
Todd Woodbridge even tweeted that “Something needs to be done about her noise and grunting on court." Five years later, there's a lot more respect - and not quite so much aural display.
Linette* 2-3 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)
Sabalenka is 'see ball, hit ball'. Rarely a backward step. Huge winners off her backhand and forehand makes the game 30-all after Linette went ahead in the game.
Big first serve by Sabalenka and she holds. Three games in a row now for the fifth seed.
Linette 2-2 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)
Linette cruises to 40-0 but is given a taste of Sabalenka's power when the Belarusian hits a forehand winner, 40-15.
Errors of the forehand and then backhand from Linette makes it deuce. Woof! Frightening power from Sabalenka as she shows patience and drills a cross court backhand winner. Break point.
Linette backhand wide. Sabalenka breaks. Linette will be very frustrated to drop serve from 40-0 up.
Linette* 2-1 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)
Confident ball striking from Sabalenka as she hits forehand and backhand winners, 30-0. But she then follows that with two backhand errors.
Huge "come on" from Sabalenka after she crushes a forehand down the line for a winner, 40-30.
And she gets on the scoreboard when Linette sends a backhand long.
Linette 2-0 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)
First ace of the match by Linette, 30-15. Backhand volley winner by Linette, 40-15.
Linette consolidates the break when Sabalenka puts a backhand return into the tramlines.
First set: Magda Linette* 1-0 Aryna Sabalenka (*denotes next server)
Early show of Linette's ability to stay in the point and force opponents into errors. Another mistake by Sabalenka and Linette has three break points.
And Sabalenka crumbles, sending a backhand well long. Linette breaks. Perfect start by Linette.
Both players have just walked out
It appeared to be slightly louder cheer for Sabalenka from the Rod Laver Arena.
Rybakina beats Azarenka to make the final
Right, so that is one Australian finalist locked in.
Victoria Azarenka, a two-time champion in Mebourne won't be best pleased with her performance. The 33-year-old stayed in touch during the first test but sadly her level dropped in the second set
A deserved win for Rybakina, who is through to her first Australian Open final.
Sabalenka after her quarter-final victory over Donna Vekic
I'm super happy with the win, it was a tough match…she's a great player and it's always tough to play against her.
I think just because I was calm and I kind of expect this game from her, so I was able to stay in the game no matter what - I think this was the key
Magda Linette on her dream run
I'm so emotional. I can't really believe it. It is really a dream come true. I'm super grateful and happy.
I will never forget this. This will stay with me for life.
Women's semi-final day
Hello and welcome to coverage of the second women's Australian Open semi-final between Magda Linette vs Aryna Sabalenka in Melbourne.
Linette is into the last four of grand slam for the first time after defeating Karolina Pliskova in straight sets in the previous round. And the Polish player says staying calm has helped her performances.
"I had so much experience on those big courts before, because almost every Grand Slam I ended up on a big court one way or another," she said.
"I played so many big players already. It's just nothing really new for me. Just another match. "Of course it's a way, like, more far in the draw. But still, it kind of feels the same. Because usually I played Karolina in the first round already twice at the US Open, so it feels quite normal."
Sabalenka goes into the match as the favourite but expressed her admiration for Linette. "She's a great player," she said.
"She's playing great tennis these weeks in Australia. Yeah, moving well, serving well, handling emotions well. Yeah, she's a great player.
It's going to be great battle. I'm really looking forward for this match." Sabalenka has been one of the most consistent players on the WTA Tour in recent years but flattered to deceive in the grand slams.
But with a place in the final at stake, the Belarusian is keen to meet her compatriot Victoria Azarenka on Saturday. "I really want it to happen," she said. "I know that Vika will do everything she can to make it happens.
I will do everything I can to make it happens. That's, yeah, going to be history. That's going to be just like unbelievable and tough to realize that this is actually happens.
"It just going to be huge. I think this is going to help other kids to understand that they can do well in this sport, they can be a top players."