Australian Open: Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka, the final of the new generation of women’s tennis

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The women’s final Australian Open It will be a duel of power, because it will face two of the most powerful players. On the one hand there will be Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, 24 years old and number five in the world, who beat the Polish Magda Linette in the semifinals, one of the great revelations of the tournament, 7-6 (7-1) and 6-2. On the other, Kazakh Elena RybakinaThe 23-year-old, 25th-ranked and current Wimbledon champion, beating 7-6 (7-4) and 6-3 Victoria Azarenka, two-time winner of the “big” ocean.

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Sabalenka looks unbeatable in Melbourne. He reached the decisive instance without giving up any sets, with victories against the Czech Tereza Martincovathe American Shelby Rogersthe Belgian Eliza MertensSwitzerland Belinda Bencic and Linetta. Also, the one born in Minsk, who could become the first Grand Slam champion under a neutral flag -because of her country’s sanction for invasion and war in Ukraine- is undefeated in 2023as he started the season with a consecration in Adelaide, also without losing any sets.

The Belarusian, who has undergone a great physical change in recent years, has a very aggressive tennis, which hurts due to the force with which she hits the ball. In Australia, no one hit so many winners Like her and her serve, she is among the two fastest in the race: 193km/h.

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Rybakina is not far behind. she is a leader in axes (44, 15 more than Sabalenka) with a very strong serve: he managed to serve at 195 kilometers per hour). But unlike his opponent on Saturday, the energy of his game comes from his clean, flat shots and from timing to run them.

The Kazakh has not had a good start to the year. She arrived in Melbourne with a 1-2 record (defeats in the second round and debut in two WTA matches played in Adelaide), but there she found the best version of him.

She dropped just one set on her way to the final: in the third round, against the American Daniel CollinsSeeded 13th, after starting with clear victories against the Slovenian Kaja Juvan and Italian Elizabeth Cocciaretto. Then he swept three former Grand Slam champions: in the round of 16, the Pole Iga Swiatek, number one in the world; in quarters, Latvian Elena Ostapenko, 17th favourite; and in the semifinals, Azarenka.

Both have a lot at stake. Sabalenka, who leads the record between the two to 3-0, wants to add his first “big” title in his first final. His best performances had been the semifinals of Wimbledon 2021 and from US Open 2021 and 2022. Whatever happens in the decisive duel, he will again be number two in the worldto match its best historical location.

“I’m not going to do anything extra for the final. I think it’s normal to feel a little nervous. She’s playing excellent tennis, she’s very aggressive and she already has experience in this case at a Grand Slam. I have to work to put her under pressure in situations and stay focused,” Aryna analyzed.

Rybakina, who struggled against Azarenka to adjust to conditions in her first night game in Melbourne, will go for his second Grand Slambut which will have a greater impact on his career than the one won at the All England.

It is that in London he was unable to add up the points that would have paid him for the title: the tournament did not distribute units in retaliation from the WTA for excluding Russian and Belarusian players. This great campaign in Australia will allow him to feed his crop: by reaching the final, he has secured the tenth step in the standings (the best of his short career) and she will be eighth if she lifts the trophy.

“Everything was new at Wimbledon and now I know what awaits me. I am more or less calm. My head already knows how to handle these moments. I will be nervous on Saturday whatever happens: it is a Grand Slam final. And it will be a very tough battle, difficult,” Elena anticipated.

Sabalenka and a mental change that paid off

Born in the Belarusian capital in 1998, Sabalenka discovered tennis at the age of 6, when her father Sergey took her to court and asked her if she wanted to try the sport. The crush was instantaneous. Despite having little experience in the junior circuit (he hardly played at that level), the world of racket has been slow to discover his natural talent.

She rose to fame in 2017, aged 19 and already in the top 150, when she was one of the leaders of her country’s team that won the Fed Cup (today Billie Jean King cup). A talented doubles player herself, she achieved glory in that discipline first at the individual level. Together with the Belgian Mertens, she won the US Open 2020 and Australia 2021 and topped the world pairs rankings.

In singles he won 11 trophies, four of them in the category WTA 1000: Wuhan 2028 and 2019, Doha 2020 and Madrid 2021, the year in which she was one of the great protagonists of the circuit and reached number two in the world.

But in his prime he began to experience ups and downs, caused by irregularities with his serve, which affected his mentality. And after a 2022 with few high moments and several hard moments -in January, in Adelaide, he committed 61 unforced errors and 21 double faults in one game, in which he ended up crying-, in the preseason he decided it was time for a change.

What did he do? The opposite of what many players do: she stopped working with her psychologist. “I realized that there is no person who can help me more than myself. I talked to him and told him that I have to handle this on my own, because every time I wait for someone to fix the problem for me, it doesn’t fix it. I have to accept my responsibility and face it. Right now, I’m my own psychologist,” she said with a laugh.

She added: “Now I try to stay calmer in matches, yell less after some bad points or after mistakes. Just think about the next point and reduce negative emotions.”

The strategy paid off, because in Melbourne he devastated his opponents and on Saturday he was able to celebrate the most important title of his career.

Rybakina, the Kazakh born in Moscow

Elena Rybakina took a totally different path from her rival, because she completed the junior stage, category in which she was number three in the ranking and reached the semifinals in Australia and Roland Garros. “It was a great time, because I shared time with my friends and it allowed me to work hard on my growth as a player,” she said.

Russian by birth, Elena trained at the Spartak Tennis Club in her hometown of Moscow and represented her country early in her professional career. But in May 2018 she switched sides. She already ranked among the top 200 of the ranking, she that year she receives scholarship offers from American universities, but also a proposal to represent Kazakhstan.

“They were looking for a player and I needed help. They believed in me. They did everything possible to keep me playing, to keep improving. I had everything available to train,” he said at Wimbledon.

“I was born in Russia, but I represent Kazakhstan. It has been a very long journey. They have helped me a lot and I feel the love of the people. I am very happy with my decision. I think I will get results, which is very important for the sport of Kazakhstan,” he added that in London he became the first Kazakh champion of a Grand Slam.

The change proved to be for the good: with her new nationality, Rybakina started making her way onto the WTA circuit. In 2019 she made her debut in a Grand Slam: she lost in the first round in Roland Garros; won his first title, in July, in Bucharest; and also played the final in Nanchang.

In 2020 she was crowned in Hobart and made it into the top 20. In 2021 she reached the quarterfinals in Paris and last year she delivered a big spin by shouting champion in the all of Englandafter defeating the Tunisian in the final On Jabeur in three series. He didn’t make a big jump in the standings because the British “big boys” didn’t deliver any points: his best finish was 12th place, in January.

“I never set such big goals in my head, I never thought about exactly what age I wanted to win my first Grand Slam or something like that. What I focused on were always small daily goals, things I knew I needed to improve little by little,” said Elena, who will try to make history again in Melbourne.


Source: Clarin

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