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SABALENKA EYEING BACK TO BACK AUSTRALIAN OPEN TITLES



The women’s Australian Open finalists Aryna Sabalenka and Qinwen Zheng are ready to go, with all eyes of the tennis world on Rod Laver Arena tonight.


In the bottom half of the draw, things went relatively to plan, with the two highest seed in the half, American Coco Gauff, and Belarussian, Aryna Sabalenka, competing in the semi-final. It was the second seeded, Sabalenka, that would book her berth in her second straight Australian Open decider.


The top half of the draw was decimated early on in the tournament, with top seed, Iga Swiatek, and 3rd seed, Elena Rybakina, both bowing out in round 3. What was left, was an wealth of players all looking to make their way into their debut final. Ultimately, the last player standing, is China’s Qinwen Zheng, the 12th seed.


So it all comes down to this.


Aryna Sabalenka, the world number 2, vs Qinwen Zheng, the world number 15 (at the start of the week), for the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.


The path to the final:


Aryna Sabalenka looked absolutely unstoppable in her first 5 matches, dropping just 16 games in 10 sets of tennis. Her semi-final against Gauff was, as expected a much tougher affair, but still, Aryna managed to get the job done in straight sets.


Round 1: Def Ella Seidel (Ranking 173) 6-0 6-1

Round 2: Def Brenda Fruhvirtova (107) 6-3 6-2

Round 3: Def Laura Tsurenko (33) 6-0 6-0

Round 4: Def Amanda Anisimova (442) 6-3 6-2

Quarter-final: Def Barbora Krejcikova (11) 6-2 6-3

Semi-final: Def Coco Gauff (4) 7-6 6-4

Total time on court: 6 hours 55 minutes

 

For Qinwen Zheng, the path has been somewhat trickier, with three of her six matches, going the distance. In round 3 against Yafan Wang, she was 7-7 in the match tie-break, and just a matter of points away from exiting the tournament. But she hung on, and has looked stronger as the event has gone on.


The big question mark is around the quality of competition she’s had, with not one opponent ranked inside the top 50. It is in fact, only the third time in history a player has reached a final without facing a seeded player. The amount of court time Zheng has had, may also come into play, spending almost twice as much time compared to Sabalenka.


Round 1: Def Ashlyn Kreuger (Ranking 76) 3-6 6-2 6-3

Round 2: Def Katie Boulter (54) 6-3 6-3

Round 3: Def Yafan Wang(94) 6-4 2-6 7-6

Round 4: Def Oceane Dodin (95) 6-0 6-3

Quarter-final: Def Anna Kalinskaya (75) 6-7 6-3 6-1

Semi-final: Def Dayana Yastremska (93) 6-4 6-4

Total time on court: 11 hours 34 minutes

 

Sabalenka is looking to win her second Australian Open title, after defeating Elena Rybakina in a classic final last year. She has reached the semi-finals of Roland Garros, and Wimbledon, and was runner-up at the US Open to Coco Gauff last year.


For Zheng, she is looking become only the second Chinese player to win a major after Li Na, who won Roland-Garros in 2011 and here, at the Australian Open in 2014. Previously, the 21 year old’s best result at a major, was reaching the quarter-finals at the US Open last year.


Incidentally, that US Open quarter-final, was the only match these two have played against each other, and it was a quite dominant Sabalenka, who won that match, 6-1 6-4.

 

As far as what we’re going to see in the match, we can expect Aryna to continue her aggressive hitting. I expect the match to be on her racket, and if she hits them like she has been so far this fortnight, or like she did in last year’s final, I think it’s trouble for the Chinese woman.


Zheng is well aware of that too…


“I'm sure the final will be really competitive, because I think Sabalenka, she's one of the, I would say, most big hitters right now in the tour. She got the most big serve, most big forehand, big backhand. She's really complete player.”


However, if she’s slightly off her game, it may open the door for Qinwen to get into some of Sabalenka’s service games. For Zheng, she needs her serve to be on, and with a tournament leading tally of 48 aces, she certainly has the capability to put some scoreboard pressure on, by simply holding serve.


She will also need to try to stay in rallies longer, and find her rhythm, while at the same time, stopping Aryna from pulling the trigger early, which her aggressive game relies on.


Experience could play a part too, with Sabalenka having played far more big matches in her career than Zheng at this stage. When talking about the challenge and the pressure of being in a maiden final, Zheng was circumspect in her reply.


“I mean, there is still going to be challenge on my side, because, you know, to arrive in the final, everybody needs to face the pressure in the final. Who can deals better and who can performance their tennis, who is the one who's gonna win the match. Yeah, I mean, that's one of my challenge. I need to deal with it. I will trying to work on. There is nothing more I can say. I will say enjoy the final and let's fight, yeah.”


Aryna was also pointed in her response when asked about playing a first time finalist.

“I would say emotionally I'll be, hmm, I don't know, like, very ready to fight. Not going crazy. Because when you play first final you kind of like get emotional and rushing things sometimes.


When you're like third time in the finals, you're, like, okay, it's a final, it's okay. It's just another match, and you're able to separate yourself from that thing. Just focus on your game.”


But don’t take that as Sabalenka taking for granted that the match will be straight forward. She’s well aware of what Zheng can bring to the table.


“Well, I think her forehand is really heavy. Yeah, and she's moving well also. Fighting for every point. Yeah, I think her forehand is really…. her best shot. I would say forehand, it's quite heavy. Yeah, she played really great tennis, putting her opponents under pressure, playing really aggressive tennis…”


In conclusion, when it comes down to it, I just don’t see Zheng being able to contain the power game that Sabalenka has displayed in full force over recent times, and I expect it will be the Belarussian’s name etched into the trophy for the second time, come Saturday night.

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