Elena Rybakina clinches straight sets semi-final win over Victoria Azarenka
Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina defeated Victoria Azarenka to reach her second grand slam final at the Australian Open.
The 23-year-old has shown the same form that carried her to a maiden major title on the lawns of SW19 last summer, using her big serve and groundstrokes to overpower opponents including world number one Iga Swiatek.
Her latest victim was two-time former champion Azarenka, who was back in the semi-finals for the first time since her second title at Melbourne Park in 2013.
The Belarusian fought back from a break down in the opening set but paid for too many errors in the tie-break, and Rybakina was the more composed in the second to seal a 7-6 (4) 6-3 victory.
“I’m super happy and proud, with my team also,” said Rybakina. “It’s an incredible atmosphere and I’m super happy to be in the finals and play one more time here.
“I got a lot of experience from Wimbledon. I just want to come on court and really enjoy the experience. For sure I’ll try my best, I’ll fight, and hopefully I’m going to win.”
The Kazakh can claim to have the best serve in the women’s game following Serena Williams’ retirement, and she set her stall out early with three aces in a row to finish the opening game.
It was Azarenka, one of the best returners in the game in her heyday, who secured the first break of serve but back came Rybakina with three games in a row to lead 5-3.
The 33-year-old was having some success in getting Rybakina off balance but a double fault was one of five unforced errors in the tie-break, which was far too many.
The pattern continued in the second set, with Rybakina punishing Azarenka when she missed her first serve and using her big game to keep her nose in front.
Although she was again unable to serve it out at 5-2, a break of the Azarenka serve sent Rybakina, who hit 30 winners, through to a first Australian Open final.
Acknowledging her coach, Stefano Vukov’s visible nerves during the match, Rybakina commented on the reaction of her team: “Of course, they were nervous because they want me to perform well,” she said after the match. “Today was a bit tougher for me. I couldn’t play aggressive tennis, the ball wasn’t going as much, but I tried my best to win.”
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