April 14, 2024

Aryna Sabalenka beats Coco Gauff to reach Australian final

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Defending champion Aryna Sabalenka avenged a final defeat at the US Open Coco Gauff and became the first woman since Serena Williams to reach back-to-back finals at the Australian Open on Thursday.

Sabalenka attacked Gauff's serve with her powerful returns and scored 33 winners in a 7-6 (2), 6-4 victory, extending her winning streak at Melbourne Park to 13 games.

“I was just prepared for everything tonight,” Sabalenka said. “I was able to focus on myself.”

She will meet No. 12 Zheng Qinwen or Dayana Yastremska in the championship decider on Saturday. Zheng and No. 93 ranked Yastremska played their first ever Grand Slam semifinal.

Sabalenka has played 13 matches at Melbourne Park, where she made her Grand Slam breakthrough last year. Williams reached the final here in 2015, 2016 and 2017 in a row. Sabalenka has set her sights on becoming the first woman to win consecutive Australian Open titles since then Victoria Azarenka in 2012 and 2013.

Gauff advanced to the semi-finals in 2024 undefeated after winning a title in Auckland, New Zealand. The 19-year-old American was on a 12-match winning streak in major tournaments and was trying to become the first player since Naomi Osaka in the 2020-21 season to win the US Open and Australian Open titles consecutively.

She had figured out how to beat Sabalenka in New York in September and win her first major title, but this time she had no answers against the only player in the Final Four who had semifinal experience in Australia.

The first set featured six breaks of serve with both players missing opportunities to serve.

Sabalenka led 5-2 and missed a set point, while Gauff held firm and hit a four-game shot to take a 6-5 lead. Gauff couldn't make it either, as Sabalenka's successes continued to cause her problems.

In the tiebreak, Sabalenka took a 5-1 lead. Chants of “Coco, Coco” rang out in Rod Laver Arena, but they didn’t help Gauff.

Almost half an hour after her first set point, Sabalenka scored five more. She secured the second of these with a big serve on goal.

Gauff was only able to win points on three of her 17 second serves in the first set, which made her push harder and led to double faults.

The second set was close until Sabalenka got a break of serve in the ninth game. She missed her first match point when Gauff saved with a forehand winner and ended a 12-shot rally.

An ace in the middle secured the second match point and Sabalenka secured the victory after 1 hour and 42 minutes.

“I really enjoy playing [Gauff]. She is an incredible player. Win or lose the great games,” Sabalenka said.

“I really hope we play many more finals in the future. Of course I hope I win them all,” she added with a laugh.

After the match, Sabalenka paid tribute to tennis greats in the audience, including Billie Jean King and Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who was celebrating the 50th anniversary of her first Australian Open title.

“I couldn't dream [of] “They play in front of you,” Sabalenka said. “Thank you for everything you have done for our sport.” It is a privilege to play in front of you.

During her post-game interview, she signed a towel that will be auctioned off. The proceeds go to children and women affected by domestic violence.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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