Rybakina vs. Azarenka, Sabalenka vs. Linette
This item is part of our Tennis Picks series.
The Australian Open is down to just four players each in the men’s and women’s draws. The women’s semi-finals are scheduled for Thursday in Melbourne, or Wednesday night in the United States. The men’s semi-finals won’t take place until Friday, and these will be previewed in their own room later. The first women’s semi-final features two Grand Slam champions. One won hers much more recently, but the other has multiple titles at the same tournament. The other match pits arguably the best untitled Grand Slam player to date against a Cinderella story looking to create a new surprise.
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Women’s matches at Grand Slam tournaments are best-of-three sets, just like the rest of the WTA Tour schedule. All of the players taking the field here have proven they can excel in these hot hard-court conditions, but a mix of previous hard-court results, recent form and stylistic matchups can help predict how upcoming games will pan out. .
Elena Rybakina (-195) against Victoria Azarenka (+160)
Rybakina proved that winning Wimbledon last year was no fluke. The only player to take a set so far in this tournament was Australian Open 2022 runner-up Danielle Collins in the third round, and Rybakina backed up that win with straight-set wins over No. World Iga Swiatek and Jelena Ostapenko. It’s only the second Grand Slam semi-final for the 23-year-old Muscovite, but Rybakina has proven she can handle the moment by going all the way at Wimbledon. She was actually broken three times by Elisabetta Cocciaretto in the first round, but arguably the best server on the WTA Tour only dropped serve four times in the next four matches. In her only previous encounter with Azarenka, Rybakina won 6-3, 6-4 at Indian Wells last year, so it’s no surprise that she’s considered the favorite in this one.
A decade has passed since Azarenka won the second consecutive Australian Open, but she made it to the US Open final in 2020, giving her five career league appearances at Grand Slams on hard ground. Overall, she is 5-0 in Grand Slam semi-finals on hard courts and 0-3 on other surfaces. Even at 33, Azarenka has the advantage of movement and should thrive in longer rallies, but how many of those she can play against Rybakina is the question. Azarenka proved she could beat all kinds of styles here, soaking up the power of No.10 seed Madison Keys in a 1-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory in the third round before fending off the third seeded Jessica Pegula 6-4, 6-1 in the quarterfinals. The Belarusian’s biggest strength is her comeback, but she will also have to serve well here, as there will be only a limited number of chances to break Ryabkina’s serve. Azarenka knows she probably doesn’t have many deep runs left in her, so expect her to fight and claw every point.
Prediction: Azarenka in three sets
Aryna Sabalenka (-475) against Magda Linette (+350)
Sabalenka has dominated this tournament, dropping five games or less on four occasions while losing all seven games to No. 12 seed Belinda Bencic in the fourth round. His service issues have largely been resolved, as Sabalenka has yet to finish a game in this tournament with more double faults than aces. Compare that serving performance to the US Open a few months ago, where Sabalenka held Swiatek 6-4 in the third set of a semi-final clash despite a 27:35 ratio of ace to double faults. in the tournament. The 24-year-old Belarusian has already been thwarted three times in a Grand Slam semi-final, but Sabalenka is in better position than ever to finally qualify for a final. If she can keep her cool, there’s little reason the world No. 5 shouldn’t win this game.
The same refrain of facing an opponent in dominant form could have been used in Linette’s previous match against Karolina Pliskova, but Linette found a way to win this one in straight sets, adding to an impressive list of wins. in that tournament which also included upsets from No. 16 seed Anett Kontaveit, No. 19 Ekaterina Alexandrova and No. 4 Caroline Garcia. Kontaveit was even the only player to take a set from the 45th-ranked Pole. It’s easy to say her opponents didn’t play their best, and that certainly seemed the case for Garcia and Pliskova, but Linette deserves credit for kicking them out of their game. It’s uncharted territory for Linette, 30, who hadn’t made it past the third round of a Grand Slam prior to this tournament. Linette has only won seven games in two previous encounters with Sabalenka, but the history of the gang hasn’t supported her chances in any of the previous four games either, but there she is.
Prediction: Sabalenka in straight sets