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SABALENKA GETS REVENGE TO REACH BACK-TO-BACK AUSTRALIAN OPEN FINALS



Aryna Sabalenka became the first woman to secure her path to the Australian Open final thanks to a dominant straight-sets win over world No.4 Coco Gauff in front of a packed Rod Laver Arena.


In a rematch of last year’s US Open final, Gauff could lean on some confidence heading into the clash with a 4-2 favourable head-to-head, including that Grand Slam final in New York. Having dropped the opening set in their past two encounters, it was perhaps no surprise to witness a nervy start from Gauff who trailed 0-2.


However, the American sprung to life when she chased down a ball at the net to tuck away and get herself back into contention with the break back.


With the match poised on serve midway through the opening set, Sabalenka’s ultra-aggressive approach was rewarded to once again break serve and race out to a 5-2 lead.


No stranger to slip-ups whilst holding a commanding advantage, the reigning Australian Open champion conceded four games in a row through some shaky mistimed shots, allowing Gauff a priceless opportunity to serve for the set.


It seemed as though both players were uninterested in securing a spot in the final, as Guaff let a 30-0 lead fall by the wayside - needing to settle for a tiebreak.


Too tentative when it mattered most, there was one instance where Gauff produced a 132km/h first serve that was ultimately buried by her 25-year-old opponent. Six double faults from Gauff didn’t help her cause, handing the first set over to her rival.


A golden chance went begging for Sabalenka to grab the first break of the second set and continue her momentum, but a simple volley at the net couldn’t be converted as she kicked the ball away in frustration.


The camera panned toward Brad Gilbert (Gauff’s coach) with a look of obvious concern and distress with his hands planted in his face, almost too nervous to watch the rest of the match unfold.


Sabalenka could sense she was inches away from reaching back-to-back finals at Melbourne Park, but a lack of concentration once again cost her the opportunity to pull away with the break for a 4-3 lead.


As the crowd let out a massive gasp when Gauff hit a handful of faults at 4-4, the tension in the stands was indescribable.


Something had to give, and Sabalenka demonstrated that her previous history of faltering due to her mental demons is long behind her, securing her fourth break of the match and serving it out to progress to the big dance in a 7-6(2), 6-4 victory in one hour and 42 minutes.


Sabalenka showcased that it helps to have raw power in her armoury, firing 33 winners to keep her record intact of not dropping a set this tournament.


In her post-match press conference, Sabalenka explained what the difference was in her game between today and last year’s US Open final defeat.


I think in New York I played a little bit passive tennis. I didn't put so much pressure her. I did in the first set, but then I kind of slowed down and start just trying to play rallies with her, which is not working well,” she said.


“The whole preseason I was working on those approach shots, on coming to the net and finish the point on the net. I'm super happy that I was able to do that on court today, and I think that's the difference between these two matches.”

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