Melbourne, Australia – The first Grand Slam women’s singles final of the year is set. For the second time in a year after winning the 2022 Wimbledon title, Elena Rybakina (KAZ), the emerging star of Team Yonex, will fight to realise another dream by winning the Australian Open.
Rybakina endured a difficult challenge to make the Final
Rybakina entered her first Australian Open semifinal with a deficit of experience against two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, who at 33 years old is 10 years her senior.
When two players met on this occasion, it was no surprise that the more experienced player settled first.
Although Rybakina has one of the fastest serves on the tour and she has recorded the most aces in this tournament, Azarenka broke her serve early on to take a 3-2 lead. The problem was not only nerves and tension, but also the environment, which she was experiencing for the first time.
"Different conditions today compared to other matches I played," she said
For the 23-year-old Kazakhstani, the semifinal marked the first time she had experienced the slower conditions of a night match on Arthur Ashe Stadium during the tournament.
"I didn't expect it's going to be that big of a difference. It was much slower. The ball was heavier. It was difficult to move it,” she said.
Rybakina prides herself on her ability to strike an extremely clean ball and few players normally generate such easy power, but as she adjusted to the heavy conditions, she focused on precision rather than power with her serve and she attempted to go for bigger targets.
"Of course, I had to adjust," she said.
Despite losing her serve at 2-2, Rybakina immediately broke back. She had established her own lead and held set point at 5-3, but Rybakina remained composed as she was dragged into a tiebreak.
After winning the first set tiebreak, her adjustments allowed her to thrive as she confidently closed out the match.
"Overall I'm happy that I managed to win the first set, and then it was a bit better in the second," said Rybakina.
Throughout the second set, Rybakina struck the ball much more cleanly. She was patient in the longer rallies, waiting for her opportunities to strike. She broke serve three times in that set alone, closing off the match with one final interrogation of Azarenka’s serve.
This has been a fortnight of growth for the 23-year-old, who has navigated numerous challenges throughout the tournament.
She played on Rod Laver Arena, thriving both in faster daylight conditions and under the roof.
She beat the world number one, Iga Swiatek, and three consecutive grand slam champions. During the week, she has drawn on experience of having already won a grand slam tournament.
"For me this time I would say it was a bit easier also compared to Wimbledon when I was playing for the first time quarters, semis, final,” she said.
All of these experiences will help her in the final as she returns to Rod Laver Arena on Saturday night to face Aryna Sabalenka for her second grand slam title.
"Today I know how it feels to play in the evening outside with an open roof,” she said.
“I get this match and I try to take everything from this match and bring it to the final.”
Oda and De Groot continue to make history
In the Australian Open wheelchair tennis tournament, Shingo Kunieda's shocking retirement announcement has dominated the opening rounds. Motivated by such a great surprise, two players are thriving so far in Melbourne.
Japan's Tokito Oda has been described as the heir to Kunieda, and so far the 16-year-old has lived up to the hype by reaching the final.
Meanwhile, Diede de Groot (NED), Kunieda’s female counterpart, has won nine consecutive Grand Slam singles titles. The 26-year-old Dutchwoman has been unbeatable in major tournaments for the past two years. Even as one legend departs, more are coming.