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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, January 23, 2023

 
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Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina ripped 11 aces dismissing former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-4 to roll into her first Australian Open semifinal.

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty

Adaptability is an asset at this unpredictable Australian Open.

Melbourne famously hosts four seasons in a day.

Sabalenka: Someone Help Me Fix This F--king Serve!

Elena Rybakina is proving to be a champion for all conditions.

In a match interrupted by a rain delay, Wimbledon winner Rybakina ripped 11 aces dismissing former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-4 to roll into her first Australian Open semifinal.

Tennis Express

It was Rybakina's second straight conquest of a Grand Slam champion following her 6-4, 6-4 upset of reigning Roland Garros and US Open champion Iga Swiatek in a fourth-round win that was her first over a world No. 1.

"I'm super happy the first time in the semifinal," Rybakina told Jelena Dokic afterward. "It was an amazing atmosphere. Thank you so much everybody. Of course I was nervous.  I'm super happy that I managed the emotions and I played really well today."

A jolting serve and Rybakina's skill imposing her brand of first-strike tennis were keys to this 79-minute win. Rybakina served her biggest on pivotal points, saving seven of eight break points, and seemed to benefit from the retractable roof closing over Rod Laver Arena four games into the match.



The woman who exudes effortless power slashed three aces in the final game including an emphatic ace down the T on match point number three to punctuate a confident win.

This victory vaults Rybakina into the semifinals against either two-time former champion Victoria Azarenka or No. 3-seeded American Jessica Pegula.

"Of course the conditions were different, but we expected it can happen," Rybakina said. "In Australia you never know, in the morning it's one weather and then in a few hours it changes so you have to be ready always.

"And that's the beauty of this sport everybody needs to adapt. I think I did really well from the beginning of the match and then continue through the first set."



Though Ostapenko beat the No. 22 seed in both prior meetings, the Latvian's refusal to back off the baseline a bit and give herself more time on the return—combined with her mind-numbing decision to repeatedly attack Rybakina's two-handed backhand with her own serve proved costly.

The 17th-seeded Latvian is not a fan of the electronic line-calling system and cast a few skeptical glances at calls in the opening game. Ostapenko's kick serve is her standard delivery, but the 6' Rybakina ripped a shoulder high backhand return winner for break point. 

Blocking back a forehand return, Rybakina drew a forehand error to earn the opening break just as she did against World No. 1 Iga Swiatek in her fourth-round sweep.

Throwing down heavy first serves, Rybakina backed up the break with authority for 2-0. 

A fluid, simple service motion is the power source for Rybakina who ripped a pair of aces holding at love for 3-1 and leaving Ostapenko gazing at ghostly ball marks.

The Kazakh was cracking the ball off both wings. Rybakina's wide wing span makes serving wide a dangerous prospect if you miss your spot. Rybakina hammered a two-handed return down the line then exploited another forehand error for break point.

Ominous clouds erupted and a soaking shower halted play with Ostapenko facing break point. A crew of ball kids broke out the towels and began to dry off the puddles as the retractable roof over Rod Laver Arena closed.

After about a 25-minute break to clean up the court and fire up fans with "Sweet Caroline", the pair return to court for a three-minute warm-up to acclimate to close roof conditions. 

The 2017 Roland Garros champion's backhand is a damaging shot. But when Ostapenko traded two-handers with Rybakina it was the Wimbledon winner often coming out on top. Rybakina drew a pair of errors breaking for 4-1.

Throwing down successive serving bolts, Rybakina saved two break points then knocked off a forehand sitter to stretch her lead to 5-1 after 24 minutes.

Tomahawking a bounce smash brought Rybakina triple set point. On her second set point, Rybakina closed on an Ostapenko error.

Neither Ostapenko's baseline thunder nor that 25-minute rain delay fazed Rybakina, who was serving significantly bigger. Rybakina won 12 of 13 points played on her first serve in the 32-minute opener.

The pair exchanged breaks early in the second set.

Grunting louder, Ostapenko made a pusher in the fourth game gaining four break points. Rybakina showed her all-court skills carving out a fine forehand volley winner to save the third break point then pounding down an ace to fend off the fourth break point.



In a gritty eight-minute hold, Rybakina repelled four break points to level after four games.

Empowered by that stand, Rybakina exploited a double fault and elicited a cluster of errors breaking again for 4-2.

In a fitting finale, Rybakina rocketed her 11th ace to close. Rybakina has hit 35 aces in her five Melbourne Park wins.

The youngest woman still standing in the field will try to keep this ride going in the semifinals.

Pegula has beaten Rybakina in both of their two meetings, while Rybakina is 1-0 lifetime against Azarenka.

 

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