Sabalenka out to win Australian Open, not defend her championship
The Belarusian beat Coco Gauff 7-6(2) 6-4 in a thriller on Thursday to reach the final
Melbourne — Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka marched into her third Grand Slam final on Thursday and said her experience will help her to focus on the challenge and avoid feeling too emotional.
Defending champion Sabalenka returned to the Melbourne Park final with a battling 7-6(2) 6-4 win over fourth seed Coco Gauff just four months after losing to the American in the US Open title clash.
The big-hitting second seed will take on a first-time finalist in 12th-seeded Chinese Zheng Qinwen and said she will view it as just another match.
“I’d say emotionally I’ll be very ready to fight. Not going crazy,” Sabalenka told reporters. “Because when you play your first final you get emotional and rush things sometimes.
“When you’re third time in the finals, you’re like, OK, it’s a final. It’s OK. It’s just another match. You’re able to separate yourself from that thing. Just focus on your game.”
Sabalenka has the opportunity to become the first woman to claim back-to-back Australian Open trophies since Belarusian compatriot Victoria Azarenka in 2012 and 2013.
“I’m defending champion, but worst case, I’m like OK, I’m going to lose this tournament and it’s less points to defend next year. Then that’s it,” she said. “That’s helping me to stay focused and just try my best in each match without thinking about defending something.”
Sabalenka, who also reached the semifinals of Wimbledon and the French Open in 2023, said she is learning to embrace the pressure at the Majors and it is paying off in Melbourne.
“I’m not ignoring the pressure. I’m just shifting my focus and it’s working well so far,” Sabalenka said. “It’s one more [match] to go and I’ll do my best.”
Zheng ended the fairytale run of qualifier Dayana Yastremska with a 6-4 6-4 victory to reach her first Grand Slam final.
The points were short and sharp for most of the battle and followed the same pattern in both sets, with the two swapping breaks early on and Zheng then snaring the extra break in the seventh game both times.
In the first set, Zheng was able to keep up the pressure on Yastremska, blasting cross-court winners off both wings, and left the 23-year-old Ukrainian clutching her abdomen in pain.
After taking a medical timeout off court, Yastremska returned, with Zheng holding in the next game. The Ukrainian extended the set winning the following game with a clever drop shot, but she piled on the errors in the next game, handing Zheng the first set.
The 12th seed started off stronger in the second set, holding her first service game to love and then snatching an early break after a string of errors from Yastremska, but the Ukrainian broke straight back.
Zheng broke again in the seventh game, helped by a double fault from Yastremska and a shanked shot that flew long.
Yastremska bravely held in the next game, with Zheng fluffing an easy smash, but the Chinese player snared the match with an unreturnable serve.
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