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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, January 24, 2023


Undefeated Aryna Sabalenka defeated Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-2 to fly into her fourth Grand Slam semifinal and first at the Australian Open.

Photo credit: Robert Prange/Getty

Reconfiguring Rod Laver Arena court with damaging drives, Aryna Sabalenka built bold breakthrough in Melbourne.

A calm and clinical Sabalenka unleashed a six-game surge deconstructing Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-2 to fly into her fourth Grand Slam semifinal and first at the Australian Open.

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

"I don't know why, but here it feels really special to be in semifinals," Sabalenka said. "It was a tough match. I'm super happy with the win. It was so great to play here today, the atmosphere was unbelievable."

A red-hot Sabalenka raised her 2023 record to 9-0 roaring into a semifinal showdown against Magda Linette.

Tennis Express

Earlier, the 30-year-old Linette dissected Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 7-5 to advance to her maiden major semifinal in her 30th career Grand Slam appearance. Sabalenka is 4-0 in Grand Slam quarterfinals, but 0-3 in major semifinals and will play for her maiden major final.

Sabalenka is dreaming big and hoping for an all-Belarusian final with Victoria Azarenka, who faces Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina in the other semifinal.

"I really want it to happen. I know that Vika will do everything she can to make it happens," Sabalenka said. "I will do everything I can to make it happens. That's going to be history. That's going to be just like unbelievable and tough to realize that this is actually happens."

The fifth-seeded Sabalenka was once prone to self-implosions on court, but has matured and is playing points with more care these days.

Though Vekic had won five of their prior six meetings, Sabalenka's jolting power and calm presence under stress—she saved 12 of 14 break points she faced—were key components to her first win over the Croatian since the 2019 San Jose semifinals.

"She's a great player and it's always tough to play against her," Sabalenka said. "I think just because I kind of expect this game from her I was able to stay in the game no matter what. So I think this was the key."

A high sun made spotting the service toss a tricky proposition. Both women struggled at times with Vekic committing 13 double faults and Sabalenka hitting a tournament high 9 double faults against 9 aces.

Confronting break point in the third game, Sabalenka scalded an ace down the middle to save it. Sabalenka used the serve down the middle to set up a crunching crosscourt forehand erasing a second break point. That stand helped Sabalenka hold.

Sputtering on serve with a couple of double faults, Vekic's self-sabotage saw her face triple break point. The explosive Sabalenka showed fine feel flicking a backhand drop shot winner for the love break and a 3-1 lead.

Vekic needed to stay in step early and did it by breaking back then fighting through a four-deuce game with a few timely aces leveling after six games.

The Croatian was cracking her forehand with ambition applying severe pressure in the seventh game. Sabalenka stood tall through an arduous eight-minute hold for 4-3.

Measuring her forehand with menacing intent, Sabalenka slammed that shot corner to corner in the eighth game. Vekic betrayed her cause with her ninth double fault to face break point. Sabalenka pounced on a serve powering a return to break for the second time and snatch a 5-3 lead.

Working through a tense game, Sabalenka smacked a bounce smash inadvertently hitting a running Vekic to convert her second set point.

Sabalenka nearly doubled Vekic's winner output (20 to 11) and saved nine of 10 break points in a pressure-packed first set that spanned one hour.

Dialing in her forehand to dangerous effect, Sabalenka crushed a crosscourt forehand then clubbed a clean forehand return winner breaking to start the second set with her fourth straight game.

The sight of Sabalenka straddling the baseline eager to attack the second serve and the sound of her crackling forehand conspired to spook Vekic, who felt she had to go for big second serves. Vekic's 12th double fault put her in another break point bind and Sabalenka slammed a return down the line scoring her third consecutive break and sixth straight game for 3-0.

Sabalenka won nine of the last 11 games as she continues her quest for a maiden major.

If a stable Sabalenka can keep calm, she believes she can reach her first Grand Slam final.

"I think that I lost those three semifinals just because I wasn't really calm on court," Sabalenka said. "I was, like, overdoing things. I really wanted to get this slam. I was rushing a lot. I was nervous a lot. Screaming, doing all this stuff.

"Right now I'm a little bit more calm on court. I think I really believe that this is the only thing that was missing in my game. If I can keep stay that focus and that calm on court, I can get through it."


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