It was a tennis purist's delight in the first of the women’s semi-finals with the big serving and power-hitting Elena Rybakina taking down returning extraordinaire Victoria Azarenka to reach her second grand slam final in her last three outings.
The 7-6(4), 6-3 win guaranteed Rybakina’s place in her maiden Australian Open final having dropped only one set throughout her six victories this fortnight.
It was a business-like performance for Rybakina who gives little away while on the court. The 23-year-old, however, was quick to express her satisfaction and gratitude when speaking post-match.
“I’m super happy and proud of my team also, without my team I wouldn’t be here,” Rybakina said to the Rod Laver Arena crowd.
“I’m just super happy to be in the finals and play one more time here.
“Today was tougher for me because it was different conditions. I couldn’t play as aggressively.
“I’m so happy to be through to the finals.
“I’ve got a lot of experience from Wimbledon and to be honest I just want to come on the court and enjoy the moment and the atmosphere.
“I’ll try my best and fight.”
Opening proceedings on women’s semi-finals night on Rod Laver Arena, both women got off to a slow start feeling each other out before exchanging breaks of serve in the fifth and sixth games.
With the scores level at three-all, Rybakina’s first serve dominance started to show. The Russian-born Kazakhstan national then feasted on Azarenka’s second serve to take a 5-3 lead before faltering when serving to close out the set.
At five-all Azarenka squandered three break point chances before holding serve to send the set to a tiebreaker. However, it was Rybakina who was able to overpower Azarenka from the baseline to take the opening set 7-6(4) in a high-quality tussle with both players registering a +4 count on winners against unforced errors.
Hitting an extraordinary 20 winners while winning 80% of points on first serve, Rybakina was just warming up against the two-time Australian Open champion.
The 2022 Wimbledon champion continued on her merry way with an exceptional serving performance to heap the pressure on Azarenka who gave Rybakina too many looks at her second serve as Rybakina won 87% of points when returning the second ball.
Breaking Azarenka in the third and seventh games, Rybakina served for the match at 5-2 but showed signs of nervousness with two unforced errors and a double fault gifting Azarenka the break back.
Not to be discouraged, Rybakina came out firing on return and sealed the win as Azarenka sent her final backhand into the net.
Given her status as a grand slam champion, Rybakina will enter Saturday night’s final as favourite against either Aryna Sabalenka, the talented Belarusian with three previous grand slam semi-final appearances; or Magda Linette who until last week had never made a grand slam round of 16.
For Azarenka, this tournament marked a return to her best tennis since overcoming a recently revealed battle with anxiety and fears of failure, although she sensed tonight was not a demonstration of her best level.
“I'm proud of myself for how I fought and I tried, but just was not, tennis-wise I felt like just wasn't there, especially in the important moments when I kept creating those opportunities for me. Just couldn't convert them”, she told the press.
“Yeah, not a great feeling right now to digest.
“I think what helps me now is not to take it, I did something bad or I'm this or that. I don't take it [personally]. It's just a day that my game didn't win. I think that helps my mindset to not dwell on things like that too much.
“On the other hand, it also motivates you. I want to go a step further and do better.”