Aryna Sabalenka beats Coco Gauff to reach final in Melbourne
Image caption: Aryna Sabalenka demonstrated her power in a 13th successive win at the Australian Open
Aryna Sabalenka remains on track to defend her Australian Open crown after reaching the Melbourne final by avenging her loss to Coco Gauff in last year’s US Open showpiece.
Belarusian second seed Sabalenka won 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 against American fourth seed Gauff in a tense semi-final.
Both were edgy in an error-strewn first set with six breaks before Sabalenka pounced decisively late in the second.
Sabalenka will face Zheng Qinwen or Dayana Yastremska in Saturday’s final.
Chinese 12th seed Zheng and Ukrainian qualifier Yastremska contest the second semi-final at Melbourne Park later on Thursday.
Sabalenka illustrates why she is title favourite
Anticipation for the contest between Sabalenka and Gauff at the opening Grand Slam of the season was high.
Both players had been impressive as they worked their way through the draw, setting up a rematch of their thrilling US Open final which 19-year-old Gauff edged in September to claim her first major title.
Sabalenka had been particularly dominant and, after showing resilience to recover from sticky spells against Gauff, still has not dropped a set over the past fortnight.
The 25-year-old Belarusian unleashed her explosive game on Gauff from the start, cracking 33 winners and attacking her opponent’s second serve in a high-octane demonstration of her power.
While Sabalenka’s style still often leads to errors, she seems more at ease at Melbourne Park this fortnight having the experience of lifting her first major title here.
Now, after keeping her composure to serve out victory, she is the first woman to reach back-to-back finals since Serena Williams in 2017.
“I think I was able to focus on myself and I was prepared for her moving really good and putting every ball back,” said Sabalenka, who has reached at least the semi-finals of the past six majors.
“I had to be ready to make an extra shot and I was ready for tonight.”
Image caption: Coco Gauff was aiming for back-to-back Grand Slam titles
Gauff fulfilled what had long seemed her destiny by winning in New York when she fought back from a set down to beat Sabalenka.
This time she was unable to repeat the feat as Sabalenka ended her unbeaten start to the 2024 season.
Gauff came to Melbourne on the back of winning a WTA title in Auckland and did not drop a set in her opening four matches.
But, after scraping past Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk in what she called a “bad” quarter-final, she looked extremely nervy in the early stages of the semi-final.
Gauff’s tension was illustrated by six double faults in the first set, although she also showed her ability to mentally reset as she twice recovered from being a breakdown.
After soaking up so much pressure, Gauff broke for 6-5 but blew the chance to serve out the set from 30-0 and was punished as Sabalenka dominated the tie-break.
Gauff had to fight off more break points in the first and sixth games of the second set, with the pressure telling when loose errors from the baseline allowed Sabalenka to break for 5-4.
This time, Sabalenka did not allow the opportunity to slip from her grasp and earned the “revenge” she wanted to exact on Gauff for her Flushing Meadows defeat.
“It was a tough match for me,” said Gauff, who looked close to tears while she left Rod Laver Arena.
“Overall it was a positive tournament. I had chances in both sets, but she played better. I think it just came down to a couple of points and that’s tennis.”