Elena Rybakina has become the first player representing Kazakhstan to reach an Australian Open final after ousting an erratic Victoria Azarenka in straight sets.
The 22nd seed also overcame some patchy play of her own before defeating the two-time champion 7-6(4), 6-3, in what was a tense encounter that featured numerous changes of momentum. It is the third time in a row Rybakina has beaten a former Grand Slam winner at Melbourne Park following her wins over Iga Swiatek and Jelena Ostapenko earlier in the tournament. In her latest match against Azarenka, who is the fourth oldest woman to contest an Australian Open semi-final match in the Open Era, she hit a total of nine aces and 30 winners.
“I am super happy and proud of my team also, without them it would be difficult to be here,” Rybakina said during her on-court interview. “It is an incredible atmosphere and I am super happy to be in the finals and play one last time here.’
Coming into the semi-final, 53% of Rybakina’s serves had been unreturned which was the highest amount among both women and men in this year’s tournament. However, the Kazakh was involved in a tussle with Azarenka throughout a roller-coaster opener which saw four breaks of serve.
Rybakina was the first to drop serve after an Azarenka volley at the net enabled the Belarussian to move ahead 3-2. Then she turned her fortunes around with a three-game winning streak to put her on the verge of clinching the set. At 5-4, Rybakina earned her first set point but was denied by a blistering forehand winner down the line from her opponent.
Besides contending Azarenka’s powerful hitting, Rybakina also at times struggled for consistency in her shot-making and produced an array of errors. Much to the displeasure of her highly animated coach, Stefano Vukov, who wasn’t afraid to display his reactions to her play whilst watching from the stands. Battling on, the world No.25 recovered from a 0-40 deficit at 5-5 before taking proceedings into a tiebreak. Ironically this was when it was Azarenka’s turn to falter as she hit back-to-back unforced errors to hand Rybakina the opening set after exactly an hour of play.
The tense opener frazzled Azarenka whose level of tennis dropped dramatically in the second frame where she won just two out of 15 points behind her second serve and hit 14 unforced errors. Weathering the storm, Rybakina charged to a game away from victory before nerves struck her as she got broken whilst leading 5-2. However, she prevailed in the following game after an Azarenka backhand error on match point sealed her victory.
“Of course, my team were nervous because they want me to perform well. It was tough for me, difficult conditions. I could not play so aggressively but I am happy that in the end I managed to win,” said the world No.25.
“I will try my best in the final of course.”
Among those watching in the crowd were members of the Original 9 who help start the move for a professional women’s circuit in pursuit of equal rights in tennis more than half a century ago. Billie Jean King, who is a co-founder of the WTA, belongs to the group. Other members are Rosie Casals, Peaches Bartkowicz, Julie Heldman, Kristy Pigeon, Nancy Richey, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Judy Dalton and Kerry Melville Reid. The group attended a special presentation in their honour earlier in the day.
“It was really special and nervous to play in front of them. I want to say a big thank you from the players because it is unbelievable what you have done for us and the new generation. It means a lot,” Rybakina said in her own tribute.
“I got a lot of experience from Wimbledon. I want to come on court to enjoy the moment and atmosphere. It is incredible to play in front of you guys so thank you so much. I will fight and hopefully I will win.”
Rybakina’s latest win has put her on the brink of breaking into the WTA top 10 for the first time. She will achieve the milestone if Magda Linette loses her semi-final match against Aryna Sabalenka.
Asian Games Champion Qinwen Zheng Reveals Shock Departure Of Coach Fissette
China’s Qinwen Zheng says she feels ‘hurt’ by the decision of her former coach to end their collaboration in order to work with another player.
The US Open quarter-finalist had been working with Belgium’s Wim Fissette in recent weeks following the departure of Pere Riba who is now the coach of Coco Gauff. Fissette has a wealth of experience in women’s tennis after working with the likes of Kim Clijsters and Naomi Osaka. However, Zheng says she is now looking for a new mentor.
“I understand his decision, but my family and I feel hurt. Right now I don’t want to talk about this person (Fissette),’ journalist Bendou Zhang quoted her as saying.
Fissette is yet to comment on his departure. He had previously coached former world No.1 Osaka between 2019-2022 and during this period she won two of her four Grand Slam titles. The American-based Japanese player is on maternity leave from the sport and gave birth to her first child in July.
20-year-old Zheng is currently ranked 23rd in the world and won her maiden WTA title in Palermo earlier this year. She is the youngest player from her country to have reached the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam in the Open Era following her run at Flushing Medows. This year she has beaten top 10 players Ons Jabeur and Daria Kasatkina.
Zheng’s latest career milestone is winning gold at the Asian Games on Friday. in the final, she defeated Zhu Lin 6-2, 6-4, in the blistering Hangzhou heat.
“The feeling was incredible,” Zheng said. “I’m really happy about that. That was not an easy match today and also yesterday (in semifinal against Alex Eala). All of them are good fighters.”
It is not clear who Zheng will be working with during the Asian swing.
Daria Kasatkina Criticises Decision To Not Use Roof At Sweltering Pan Pacific Open
Daria Kasatkina has taken a swipe at organizers at the Toray Pan Pacific Open for not using the roof to cover their premier court on Thursday due to the heat.
The Russian played her second round match against Despina Papamichail in temperatures around 30 degrees with the humidity making it feel even warmer. Kasatkina battled to a 6-4, 6-4, win after spending more than two hours on the court. She dropped serve four times in the match but managed to break Papamichail seven times en route to victory.
Speaking on the court following his latest tour win, the world No.13 admitted that she struggled in the conditions and implied that she believed the roof should have been closed to shield the players from the sun. Tokyo, which is where the tournament is staged, has experienced a record-breaking number of ‘extremely hot’ days this year with their autumn season being warmer than usual. Something that some warn could be a more regular occurrence due to climate change.
“We cannot do much about it. We are using the ice towels and some supplements to keep you hydrated. By at the end, you cannot fight with something you cannot control,” Kasatkina commented on the conditions during her on-court interview.
“I think in these kinds of conditions, if you have a roof, better maybe to close it. If you have these opportunities, better to use it than to make players almost die on the field.” She added.
Kasatkina is through to her seventh Tour quarter-final of the season. Awaiting her in the next round will be second seed Jessica Pegula who beat Spain’s Cristina Bucșa 6-1, 6-2, in her second round match on Wednesday. It will be only the second Tour meeting between the two players and their first on a hard court.
Elsewhere in Tokyo, another player to reach the last eight in France’s Caroline Garcia who beat Anhelina Kahlinina 6-4, 6-3. Meanwhile, Anastasia Pavlychenkova defeated Czech Republic’s Linda Noskova 6-3, 4-6, 6-0.
Barbora Krejcikova Does The Double In San Jose
After what has been a challenging past few weeks on the Tour, Barbora Krejcikova has returned to the winner’s circle by claiming both the singles and doubles titles at the San Diego Open.
The world No.13 battled to a marathon 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, win over Sofia Kenin in what was a clash of the former Grand Slam champions. Krejcikova was pushed to her limits throughout the two-and-a-half-hour clash with there being no break in the decider until the final game. It is the second singles title the Czech has won on the WTA Tour this season after Dubai and her seventh overall.
“Normally I wouldn’t be here,” said Krejcikova, who received a wild card to play in the tournament “I really want to thank them (the tournament organisers). It was very special. I really enjoyed my stay here.”
Krejcikova’s run to the trophy has also seen her score wins over Beatriz Haddad Maia and Danielle Collins earlier in the week. She is the first player from her country to win the tournament.
Following on from that triumph, the 27-year-old then clinched the doubles title alongside compatriot Katerina Siniakova. The duo beat Collins and Coco Vandeweghe 6-1, 6-4.
Krejcikova came into San Jose on a four-match losing streak which started at Wimbledon where she was forced to withdraw from her secound round clash due to a left leg injury.
“I came here with not really good statistics after my injury, I didn’t actually win any matches,” she said. “So I just came here and I pretty much was hoping and believing that I could get the first win and go from there. It’s pretty special to be sitting here having won [the title].”
It is only the second time in Krejcikova’s career that she has won both the singles and doubles titles at the same event. The first time she did so was at the 2021 French Open where her partner in the doubles was also Siniakova.
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