Australian Open 2024: Aryna Sabalenka seeks ‘revenge’ against Coco Gauff in semi-final
Image caption: Four of the six matches between Coco Gauff and Aryna Sabalenka, including the 2023 US Open final, have gone to three sets
Defending champion Aryna Sabalenka will be out for “revenge” when she takes on American teenager Coco Gauff for a place in the Australian Open final.
The Belarusian lost out in a thrilling US Open final in September after Gauff fought back from a set down to triumph.
Seeking to retain the title which represented her first major title 12 months ago, Sabalenka has been in devastating form in Melbourne.
“After the US Open, I really wanted that revenge,” said Sabalenka.
“It’s always a great battle against Coco, really great fights. I’m happy to play her and I’m super excited to play the semi-final match,” the 25-year-old added.
“She’s moving really well. Everything you do on the court is coming back. She’s a great player, and I’m really excited to play her.”
That match will begin at 08:30 GMT on Thursday on Rod Laver Arena and the winner is guaranteed to face a player who has never reached this far at a Grand Slam in Saturday’s showpiece, with Chinese 12th seed Zheng Qinwen and Ukrainian qualifier Dayana Yastremska contesting the biggest match of their respective careers in the day’s second semi-final.
Sabalenka’s revenge mission
After her US Open final loss to 19-year-old Gauff in New York, an emotional Sabalenka was seen smashing her racquet against the floor on the way back to the dressing room.
But the second seed has responded to that disappointment in emphatic fashion on her return to Grand Slam action in Melbourne, where she is yet to lose a set and has conceded just 16 games across five matches.
The longest Sabalenka has been kept on court is the 71 minutes it took to dismiss Czech ninth seed Barbora Krejcikova in the quarter-finals as she efficiently extended her winning streak at Melbourne Park to 12 matches.
She has now reached the semi-finals at her past six Grand Slam tournaments – and eight of her last 10 since reaching her first at Wimbledon in 2021 – a level of consistency at the sport’s top level which she has put down to a change in mindset.
“I’m not getting crazy on court, I’m not rushing things. I’m just playing point by point and that’s it, fighting for every point without overthinking about my dreams,” Sabalenka said.
“I just decided at some point I needed to figure out by myself how to start controlling myself better. I think that decision was the biggest decision for me and I started actually taking responsibility for everything I’m doing.”
Image caption: Aryna Sabalenka is just the third women’s player this century to reach six or more major semi-finals in a row
Gauff landed her first Grand Slam title with her stunning comeback against Sabalenka to win 2-6 6-3 6-2 in New York, delivering on her potential in front of an expectant home crowd.
Entering her first major as a reigning Slam champion, the fourth seed cruised into the Australian Open last eight but scraped past Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk in three sets to set up a tantalising semi-final.
The 19-year-old, who has won both Slam semi-finals she has contested, said she hoped to have “got the bad match out of the way” before preparing for a seventh meeting with Sabalenka, having won four of the previous six.
“You do feel like you’re the one to beat and I feel like people step on court and they play more free and want to play their best because there’s no pressure,” said Gauff, who finished runner-up at the 2022 French Open following her other previous semi-final appearance.
“I definitely feel a little change. But also, at the same time, when I was young nobody wanted to lose to a 15-year-old, so I felt people played really hard then too.
“I think there’s a quote, it’s not easy to get to the top, but easier to get to the top and harder to stay there. The goal is to stay here as long as possible and keep going upwards.”
Image caption: Despite reaching the fourth round on her debut as a 15-year-old in 2019, Wimbledon is now the only tournament where Coco Gauff is yet to reach the semi-finals
Zheng and Yastremska will both be in uncharted territory when they follow Sabalenka and Gauff’s rematch on Thursday.
The 21-year-old Zheng, set to move into the world’s top 10 following her comeback quarter-final win over unseeded Russian Anna Kalinskaya, is through to the last four at a Slam for the first time – 10 years after compatriot Li Na triumphed in Melbourne.
But while Zheng also reached the last eight at the US Open, Yastremska’s previous best performance at a major was a run to the Wimbledon fourth round in 2019.
Yastremska, 23, is the first qualifier to reach the Australian Open semi-finals in the women’s draw in 46 years and will start as underdog with a rank of 93.
“It’s nice to make history. It’s something new for me and for my generation because the last time it happened it was a long time ago,” Yastremska said.
After setting up their semi-final encounter, Zheng said: “It doesn’t matter if she comes from qualifying. Right now, the people who arrive to the semi-finals, they all have a super level in this tournament.”