Garbine Muguruza and Alize Cornet both fell at the first hurdle at the Lyon Open on Monday, going down to Linda Noskova and Camila Osorio respectively.

Having gone out in the first round at the Australian Open earlier this month, former world number one Muguruza did the same in France, suffering a resounding 6-1 6-4 defeat to 18-year-old Czech qualifier Noskova.

Third seed Cornet did not fare much better on home soil, capitulating after drawing level with Osorio as the Colombian triumphed 6-4 4-6 6-1.

The other seeds in action on day one at the WTA 250 event avoided the same fate, with fifth seed Anastasia Potapova beating Marina Bassols Ribera 4-6 6-1 6-2 and fourth seed Petra Martic fighting back to edge her two-hour battle with Kristina Mladenovic 3-6 6-3 7-5.

At the Thailand Open in Hua Hin, third seed Wang Xiyu was beaten in an all-Chinese meeting with Zhu Lin, while Wang Xinyu triumphed in straight sets against Joanne Zuger and Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko eliminated Ysaline Bonaventure.

Aryna Sabalenka says becoming world number one is the next target on her list after beating Elena Rybakina in Saturday's Australian Open final to win her first grand slam.

The 24-year-old recovered from behind at Rod Laver Arena to beat reigning Wimbledon champion Rybakina 4-6 6-3 6-4 and become the 58th different women's player to win a major in the Open Era. 

Having previously fallen short in three semi-finals, Sabalenka became the fifth female player in the Open Era to win her maiden grand slam final, with Rybakina being another.

After adding her name to an exclusive list, Sabalenka is now targeting the number one spot for the first time, which is held by Iga Swiatek.

"As I've said, we all have the same kind of goals," Sabalenka, set to move up to second in the updated rankings, said at her post-match press conference. "Winning a grand slam is not the last on my list."

Sabalenka, who described her performance as "the best of my life", has now won 23 matches in a row to start the 2023 season.

 

She made 17 aces against Rybakina, whom she is now 4-0 against in head-to-head encounters, with that bettered only by Serena Williams (18 versus Maria Sharapova in 2015) in the past 20 Australian Open women's finals.

And the Belarusian – competing under a neutral flag in Melbourne – puts her breakthrough grand slam triumph down to changing her mindset and becoming calmer on court.

"I always had this weird feeling that when people would come to me and ask for signature, I would be like, 'why are you asking for signature? I'm nobody. I'm a player. I don't have a grand slam' and all this stuff," she said.

"I just changed how I feel. I started respecting myself more. I started to understand that actually I'm here because I work so hard and I'm actually good player.

"Just having this understanding that I'm a good player, understanding I can handle a lot of emotions, a lot of things on court. Every time I had a tough moment on court, I was just reminding myself that I'm good enough to handle all this."

Rybakina defeated major champions Swiatek, Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka en route to the final, though she was unable to add to the Wimbledon crown she won in July.

The 22nd seed took the first set – the first Sabalenka has dropped this year – but her opponent's serve soon clicked into gear and Rybakina had no response.

"She served really well today no matter the double-faults," Rybakina said. "A few second serves she hit probably as a first serve.

"For sure it's not easy mentally. She didn't have great serve last year, but now she's super strong and she served well. I respect that. I know how much work it takes.

"I think Aryna raised her level in the second set. She played really well, aggressive, made fewer mistakes. I should have been more aggressive also in some moments.

"I had some chances to turn it around. But she played really well today. She was strong mentally and physically. Overall it was a good two weeks for me here."

As Saturday's Australian Open final pitted two of the most powerful players on the WTA Tour against one another, of course Russell Crowe was in Rod Laver Arena to see these modern gladiators do battle.

Much like Crowe's Hollywood epic, this encounter took two and a half hours to reach its conclusion. When it did, it was the brute strength and bravery of Aryna Sabalenka that made her a first-time grand slam champion.

Sabalenka, having so often fallen frustratingly short on the biggest stage, stuck to the principles that had carried her this far and was rewarded with a 4-6 6-3 6-4 defeat of Elena Rybakina.

A change has been noted in Sabalenka's manner in Melbourne, a calmer approach in difficult moments – and there were plenty against Rybakina.

Sabalenka had previously spoken of the need to be "boring" to win a major, but she argued ahead of this final: "I don't think it's that boring to watch me. I hope [not]. Just less negative emotions."

Are you not entertained? Crowe and the rest of the crowd watching this back-and-forth certainly were, chiefly due to Sabalenka's unrelenting aggression.

It was most evident on the second serve as Sabalenka repeatedly went after her opponent. Perhaps she felt she had no choice.

Rybakina had won a tournament-leading 73 points against the second serve prior to the final; easing up would have invited her own immense power into the equation.

Instead, Sabalenka's second serve averaged 149km/h. The result was only a 47 per cent success rate and seven double faults – but also the title.

Rybakina went in the opposite direction and, after a strong start, paid the price.

Her second serve was down at 136km/h and led to only a single double fault, yet Sabalenka, initially understandably nervous, grew into the match and won 23 return points against the second serve. She met Rybakina's uncharacteristically delicate touch with a hammer.

Rybakina's thinking had been set forth after her first night match of the tournament against Victoria Azarenka in the semi-finals.

"Maybe I will not have to serve that big, that fast, so it doesn't really matter the speed," she explained. "It's important to have a good placement on the serve.

"In these conditions, to serve full, full power, it's not easy. The ball is not really going."

It still went at times in the final – a 195km/h serve matched any previously seen in Melbourne this year – but that placement was not there; landing only 59 per cent of her first serves in, Melbourne's ace queen allowed Sabalenka to become a little too familiar with this change of tack on second serve.

Having eliminated three major champions, including world number one Iga Swiatek, and last year's finalist en route to the showpiece match, it was undoubtedly a risk for Rybakina to alter her game with the title in sight.

She may well have thought it had paid off after taking the first set; although her three previous matches against Sabalenka had all gone to three sets, all had been lost after Rybakina dropped the opener.

But Sabalenka roared back, recovering from 15-40 in the opening game of the second and building from there.

Once the tide turned, it became increasingly unclear whether Rybakina was steadfastly sticking to her slower, supposedly more accurate method or had simply been sapped of her energy by the sublime force of Sabalenka, who racked up 51 winners.

It was ultimately the Belarusian – a first neutral champion – who succeeded in showing something different, her 11th win in succession to start the season seeing her drop a set for the first time yet still triumph.

As emotion overcame Sabalenka before she promised "even better tennis" in Australia next year, Rybakina was left with much to ponder.

Both women outlined their desire for "many more battles", and the Wimbledon champion might hope the conditions next time tee her up to take Sabalenka on at her own game.

Sabalenka is the opponent Rybakina has faced most often without winning; if this is to develop into the sort of rivalry women's tennis has not seen for some time, that is going to need to change.

Aryna Sabalenka vowed to have many more battles with the impressive Elena Rybakina after securing her first grand slam title at the Australian Open.

Belarusian Sabalenka was far from her best in the first set on Rod Laver Arena but made amends for her errant serving with a heavy-hitting showing to down Rybakina 4-6 6-3 6-4 on Saturday.

Victory over the 23-year-old marked Sabalenka's 11th straight win to start the 2023 season, dropping to her knees to celebrate after falling just short in previously reaching three major semi-finals.

World number five Sabalenka heaped praise on Rybakina, who had looked on course to back up her 2022 Wimbledon triumph, as she reflected on a maiden grand slam success.

"First of all, I want to say sorry for my English as I am still shaking and am super nervous," she said on court after her triumph.

"Secondly, it's such an inspiration to receive this trophy from you [Billie Jean King]. Thank you so much for everything you've done for our sport. I couldn't be more thankful.

"I want to congratulate Elena for an incredible two weeks. You are such a great player.

"I hope we have many more battles and hopefully [they will be] in the finals of grand slams.

"Congratulations to your team. You guys are amazing and have done such a good job.

"It was an amazing atmosphere. I hope next year I come back even stronger and I will show you all [the Australian fans] even better tennis."

Addressing her own team, Sabalenka added: "We've been through a lot of downs last year.

"We worked so hard and you guys deserve this trophy. This is more about you than about me. Thank you so much for everything you do for me. I love you guys."

 

Rybakina, the 22nd seed in Melbourne, defeated major champions Iga Swiatek, Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka en route to the final amid a scintillating run in Australia.

But she slipped to a fourth straight defeat in head-to-head clashes with Sabalenka.

"I would like to congratulate Aryna on the title and a great start to the season. I know how hard you and your team have worked for that," Rybakina said.

"Good luck for the rest of the season and hopefully we are going to have many more battles.

"I want to say a big thank you to my team for the great job we have done; to my family, coach and president of the Kazakhstan Federation, thank you so much for the support.

"I had goosebumps with this atmosphere and I am looking forward to coming back next year. Next year I hope to go one better."

Aryna Sabalenka claimed her first grand slam title after fighting back to down Elena Rybakina at the Australian Open on Saturday.

Sabalenka has won all 11 of her matches in 2023 after battling to a thrilling 4-6 6-3 6-4 victory over the Wimbledon champion.

Dropping the opener against Rybakina was the first time Sabalenka had lost a set this year.

After moving in front, Rybakina seemed on course to back up last year's major success with a hard-court victory in Melbourne, but fifth seed Sabalenka regained composure after a nervy start to win a gripping encounter.

Both players were impacted by the wind in the early stages with the roof open at the Rod Laver Arena, though Rybakina adapted the quicker to break and go 2-1 up as Sabalenka skewed a forehand wide.

Despite the Belarusian levelling at 4-4 with a powerful backhand, Sabalenka's errant serving proved costly as five double faults allowed Rybakina move ahead and serve out to take the lead.

The match sprung to life as Sabalenka's serve clicked into gear. Rybakina saved two set points but had no answer on the third as an emphatic ace ensured a decider would be required.

World number 25 Rybakina was then overpowered by Sabalenka's heavy-hitting forehand and, despite saving three break points prior, the latter snatched a vital opportunity to go 4-3 up and then move a game away from glory.

That break ultimately proved the difference but Sabalenka had to hold her nerve, with Rybakina making her serve it out.

Despite a double fault on her first championship point and then being unable to convert her next two, Sabalenka claimed the title on her fourth match point as her opponent's forehand went long, with the relief and emotion pouring out as she dropped to the ground.

Data slam: Sabalenka rewarded for grand slam consistency

Sabalenka became the 58th different female player in the Open Era to secure a grand slam title after overcoming the 57th major champion Rybakina, who lifted the Wimbledon trophy in 2022.

In the last two seasons, only Iga Swiatek (24) and Jessica Pegula (18) have won more grand slam main-draw matches than Sabalenka (17) as the 24-year-old tasted her first major success, having made it as far as the semi-finals in three previous majors.

Aryna Sabalenka made a giant career breakthrough by reaching the Australian Open final, revealing: "I've dropped my psychologist and appointed myself."

One year on from being near the lowest ebb of her career, struggling to hit a serve into court, Sabalenka is a changed player after working on the biomechanics of her game.

Three times a losing grand slam semi-finalist, she got over that hurdle for the first time by beating Magda Linette 7-6 (7-1) 6-2 in Thursday's second semi-final, setting up a title showdown with Elena Rybakina on Saturday.

Hard work has brought about this change in Sabalenka, who was stacking up double-figure match totals of double faults as a matter of course in the early stages of last season.

There was work with a psychologist in the background, too, but Sabalenka feels that has run its course, and that nobody understands her better than herself.

It is a gamble, but it also seems to be paying off handsomely.

The 24-year-old fifth seed said: "To be honest, I decided to stop working with a psychologist. I realised that nobody other than me will help, you know?

"In the pre-season I spoke to my psychologist saying, 'Listen, I feel like I have to deal with that by myself', because every time I'm hoping that someone will fix my problem, it's not fixing my problem.

"I just have to take this responsibility and I just have to deal with that. I'm not working with a psychologist any more. I'm my psychologist."

The experiment is working just fine so far, with Sabalenka having a perfect run through her first 10 matches of the year, picking up an Adelaide International title and powering through the grand slam rounds in Melbourne.

She has yet to drop a set this season, and now a first grand slam singles title is tantalisingly close.

Wimbledon champion Rybakina stands in her way, with Sabalenka disclosing she mostly ignored the grass-court slam last year after Russian and Belarusian players were banned from competing.

"I didn't watch Wimbledon last year. I was feeling really bad about that, and I didn't watch Wimbledon at all," the Belarusian said.

"A little bit the final just because I was working out in the gym. I saw a little bit. It was great tennis."

Sabalenka, who is not known for hiding her emotions, appears to be on a sturdy keel in Australia and said she kept the celebrations low-key after beating Linette because "there is one more match to go".

She has won all three of her past matches against Rybakina, but they all came before the Kazakhstani became a major champion.

It is Rybakina who carries the experience of winning in a slam final into Sunday's trophy match, which can be seen as an advantage.

The psychologist lurking within Sabalenka has delivered impressive results so far, and the on-court focus she has demonstrated suggests the woman from Minsk is unlikely to lose any mental battle.

"To be honest, I think I'm not going to do something extra," Sabalenka said. "I think it's okay to feel a little bit nervous. It's a big tournament, a big final. If you're going to start trying to do something about that, it's going to become bigger, you know?

"I'll just leave it like that. It's okay to feel nervous. She's playing great tennis, serving well. I just have to be there and have to work for it and put her under pressure. Yeah, that's it."

Aryna Sabalenka's dream start to 2023 continued as she reached her first grand slam final at Magda Linette's expense after Elena Rybakina took out another major winner at the Australian Open.

Sabalenka dispatched unseeded Pole Linette 7-6 (7-1) 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena to stand a win away from her maiden grand slam title.

The 24-year-old from Belarus arrived at Melbourne Park on a high from winning the Adelaide International without dropping a set.

Sabalenka has gone from strength to strength, with the victory over Linette ensuring she has won all 20 sets she has played in 2023.

The fifth seed is the third female player this century to win her first 10 matches of the season without dropping a set after Anna Smashnova in 2002 and Agnieszka Radwanska in 2013. 

Rybakina got the better of Victoria Azarenka in the first semi-final on Rod Laver Arena, prevailing 7-6 (7-4) 6-3.

The Wimbledon champion has seen off three grand slam champions to reach her second major final, the first of those being world number one Iga Swiatek before she got past Jelena Ostapenko and two-time Australian Open winner Azarenka.

Kazakh Rybakina is the first player to beat a trio of major champions en route to the final of the Australian Open since American Jennifer Capriati back in 2001.

Capriati climbed the title when she achieved that feat 22 years ago.

Elena Rybakina is thrilled her parents will be on hand for Saturday's Australian Open final after they were unable to witness her Wimbledon triumph.

The Moscow-born 23-year-old, now competing for Kazakhstan, achieved a grand slam breakthrough when she overcame Ons Jabeur to triumph at the All England Club last July.

It was a victory that was tinged with sadness, though, with father Andrey and mother Ekaterina not able to obtain visas to travel from Russia to London.

Rybakina broke down in tears in a press conference after her Wimbledon triumph when asked about her absent parents, but they are with her in Melbourne and will be in the stands to watch the title match against Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka.

A 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 win against two-time champion Victoria Azarenka on Thursday carried Rybakina through to the showpiece match.

When she was asked whether being on site makes the occasion more special for her parents, Rybakina said: "For sure it's great for them. I didn't even talk with them yet, but I'm sure they're happy. They don't see me often playing live, so I think this time it's a big result already.

"No matter how I play in the final, I think they're very proud and happy.

"For sure they're nervous. I think every match I play they're nervous, no matter if it's live or they're watching on TV. You can never get used to this. Of course, you're going to be nervous no matter if it's first round or final."

Rybakina has lost her three previous matches against Sabalenka, with each of them following the same pattern. Sabalenka has won the first set every time, dropped the second, and then come back to convincingly take the decider.

They have not played since 2021, however, and Rybakina has become a slam champion since then, while Sabalenka still awaits a breakthrough on that scale.

Given Sabalenka is unbeaten in 10 matches this year and has yet to even drop a set, Rybakina may still have her work cut out at the weekend.

However, Rybakina is the player who sank the title hopes of world number one Iga Swiatek in round four, and she also saw off the dangerous Jelena Ostapenko, a former French Open winner, before toppling Azarenka.

"It was a great challenge for me because for sure they have experience of winning grand slams, so it was nothing new for them," Rybakina said. "For me this time I would say it was a bit easier also compared to Wimbledon when I was playing for the first time in the quarters, semis, final.

"For sure, they're very experienced players. I knew that I have to focus on every point. I think in the end I did real well."

The difference between Rybakina before last year's Wimbledon and the player now in the hunt for a second grand slam is obvious.

She knows there are no limits for her at these tournaments, having gone all the way, whereas Sabalenka has never previously contested a singles slam final.

"Everything was new at Wimbledon. Now I more or less understand what to expect," Rybakina said.

Her parents have a grip on what she can achieve too, and Andrey's suggestion she should have gone to college as a teenager rather than join the professional ranks is something they can now laugh off.

"Well, we didn't talk about this, but I will ask for sure now since you mention it," Rybakina said, when her father's advice was brought up. "For every parent, it's difficult to make any decision because I'm young and of course I want to play. For them, they're worried if I will be injured or something.

"But I think he's happy and he's very proud. I know that from the beginning, they believed in me no matter if I will lose first round or anything as a junior because they saw also potential, how I loved the game. I think they're just proud now."

Victoria Azarenka was not impressed with being asked a "provocative question" about a pro-Russia demonstration at the Australian Open after her semi-final defeat to Elena Rybakina.

Azarenka's quest to end a 10-year wait for a third grand slam singles title ended when the Belarusian was beaten 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 by the Wimbledon champion on Thursday.

The 33-year-old's loss on Rod Laver Arena came after Novak Djokovic's father, Srdjan, was seen with supporters of Russian president Vladimir Putin at Melbourne Park.

Pro-Putin agitators staged a rally outside Rod Laver Arena, after Djokovic beat Russian Andrey Rublev to reach the last four on Wednesday, with four people later questioned by police following allegations that security guards were threatened.

Rublev has previously expressed his opposition to Russia's war in Ukraine, which has been ongoing since last February.

Putin supporters chanted and carried Serbian and Russian flags. One man appeared to be wearing a T-shirt adorned with the letter 'Z' – used as a pro-war symbol in Russia.

Srdjan Djokovic was seen standing with the group alongside a man holding a Russian flag with Putin's face on it. According to reports, he said: "Long live the Russians."

Tennis Australia banned Russian and Belarusian flags from being taken into grounds, after a spectator was reported to security for displaying one during a match between Ukraine's Kateryna Baindl and Russian Kamilla Rakhimova.

Azarenka was not happy with being asked about political issues during her post-match press conference.

She told a reporter: "You're here talking about it right now, so obviously it's a topic you want to continue to bring up and up and up again. I don't know what you want me to say."

Asked if Djokovic might be affected by the incident, Azarenka replied: "I don't know what it has to do with Novak at all, to be fair, so...

"I've spoken to actually a security guard today who was walking me to practice every day. I've known him for years. I just asked him what was the accident [sic]. He explained to me.

"I don't know what you guys want us to do about it. Like talk about it? I don't know what's the goal here that it's continuously brought up. These incidents that in my opinion have nothing to do with players, but somehow you keep dragging players into it.

"So what's the goal here? I think you should ask yourself that question, not me.

"Whatever the answer I'm going to give to you right now, it's going to be turned whichever way you want to turn it to. So does it bother me? What bothers me is there's real things that's going on in the world. I don't know. Are you a politician? Are you? Are you covering politics?"

When the reporter said: "No, I'm a sports journalist", Azarenka responded by saying: "And I'm an athlete. You're asking me about things that maybe somebody says are in my control, but I don't believe that.

"I don't know what you want me to answer. If it's a provocative question, then you can spin the story however you want."

Aryna Sabalenka reached uncharted territory in her career by fending off Magda Linette to set up an Australian Open final showdown with Elena Rybakina.

Only a year ago, Sabalenka's game was in crisis as she struggled horrendously with serving yips, but now a first grand slam singles title match awaits the Belarusian.

She scored a 7-6 (7-1) 6-2 victory over unseeded Polish player Linette on Rod Laver Arena, recovering from going an early break down in the first set before taking command of the contest.

Trailing 2-0 and 30-all on serve, Sabalenka ripped a brilliant forehand winner on the run and yelled "Come on!", looking to gee herself up. It did the trick as she won the game to gain a foothold, then came from 40-0 behind in Linette's next service game to break back.

Neither player had a further break point before the tie-break, which fifth seed Sabalenka dominated, before racing 4-1 ahead in the second set.

The 24-year-old, facing an opponent six years her senior, gave Linette precious little hope of a comeback. Linette admirably staved off three match points at 5-1 down, holding serve to keeping Sabalenka waiting, but the deepest grand slam run of her career is over.

Now opportunity knocks for Sabalenka in the biggest match of her life at the weekend, her 20th WTA-level singles final, with Wimbledon champion Rybakina standing in her way.

Data slam: Taking a straight line to glory

Sabalenka has won 10 out of 10 matches in 2023 so far, landing a title in Adelaide before embarking on this run in Melbourne. More impressive than that is all the wins have come in straight sets. She had lost three slam singles semi-finals leading up to this Linette clash, but now that hurdle has been cleared.

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Sabalenka – 6/2
Linette – 1/1

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Sabalenka – 33/25
Linette – 9/16

BREAK POINTS WON

Sabalenka – 3/7
Linette – 1/4

Elena Rybakina reached her first Australian Open final with a straight-sets victory over Victoria Azarenka on Rod Laver Arena.   Wimbledon champion Rybakina was not at her best but came from a break down in the opener and went on to win 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 on Thursday.   Rybakina struggled with her first serve, but a below-par Azarenka was unable to capitalise in her first Australian Open semi-final since retaining her title a decade ago.   The Kazakh will face Arnya Sabalenka or Magda Linette in her second grand slam final on Saturday.


Rybakina, the 22nd seed, started with a double fault but there were no signs of nerves as she followed that up with three aces to hold, but Azarenka earned the first break with a well-constructed point that she ended with a volley to lead 3-2.

Azarenka was unable to consolidate that break, though, as a combination of power and precision enabled Rybakina to hit straight back and the 23-year-old was 5-3 up following an unforced error from her experienced opponent.

Rybakina was unable to serve out the set as the battling two-time champion conjured up a majestic forehand winner on the run, saving a set point before breaking back.

There was frustration for 24th seed Azarenka when she saw three break points come and go in the next game as Rybakina endured huge struggles with her first serve, but won a tense, error-strewn tie-break when the former world number one sprayed a forehand wide.

Azarenka saved a break point first game of the second with a sublime cross-court forehand winner and held with an ace, but Rybakina was able to secure the break for a 2-1 lead.

Rybakina wasted a great chance to go 4-1 up when she missed a simple forehand, but she was serving for the set after Azarenka also got a forehand all wrong.

She was unable to serve it out, but a flat Azarenka bowed out following a poor service game that she ended by crashing a backhand into the net.


Rybakina overcomes another major hurdle

That is three major champions Rybakina has seen off to reach her maiden Australian Open final.

She beat strong favourite and world number one Iga Swiatek in the fourth round and got past Jelena Ostapenko before toppling Azarenka.


ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Rybakina– 9/3
Azarenka– 3/6

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Rybakina– 30/21
Azarenka– 26/27

BREAK POINTS WON

Rybakina – 5/11
Azarenka– 3/8

Aryna Sabalenka has lost all three of her previous grand slam semi-finals but says this year's Australian Open feels different after powering her way into the last four on Wednesday.

The 24-year-old fifth seed triumphed 6-3 6-2 over Donna Vekic to secure a berth in the semi-finals where she will face unseeded Pole Magda Linette.

Sabalenka won the Adelaide International title prior to the Melbourne Open, meaning she has won her past nine matches without dropping a set.

Wednesday's win improved Sabalenka's grand slam quarter-final record to 4-0, but her major semi-final record is a different story, currently 0-3, despite winning the first set in all three.

Sabalenka made the US Open semi-final last year where she lost to top seed and eventual winner Iga Swiakek. The Belarussian also made the semis at Flushing Meadows in 2021, going down to unseeded Canadian Leylah Fernandez, while she lost her 2021 Wimbledon semi-final to eighth seed Karolina Pliskova.

"I feel a little bit different," Sabalenka told reporters. "I think that I lost those three semi-finals just because I wasn't really calm on court.

"I was 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 that focus and that calm on court, I can get through it.

"I just feel like I have more believe in myself. I feel like this is the huge difference."

The powerful Sabalenka utilized her forehand brilliantly against Vekic with 38 winners, while she kept her cool, saving 12 of 14 break points.

When asked how she is staying focused, she added: "I'm just trying to look at the situation from the top, to see, for example I'm up with a break, and even if she's going to break me back, nothing bad going to happen. You are just going to keep serving well.

"I'm just trying to look at the situation from the top, try to relax myself, try to think what I have to do."

Sabalenka's run to the Australian Open last four sets up the opportunity of a first-ever all-Belarussian grand slam final, with compatriot Victoria Azarenka into the other semi-final, where she will face Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.

"I really want it to happen," she said. "I know that Vika will do everything she can to make it happen. I will do everything I can to make it happen.

"That's going to be history. That's going to be just unbelievable and tough to realise that this is actually happening.

"It's just going to be huge. This is going to help other kids to understand that they can do well in this sport, they can be top players."

Fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka kept alive her hopes of a maiden grand slam final appearance after downing Donna Vekic in straight sets in their Australian Open quarter-final on Thursday.

Sabalenka, who has lost three major semi-finals, progressed to a last-four date with Poland's Magda Linette, after triumphing 6-3 6-2 over the unseeded 26-year-old Croatian in one hour and 47 minutes at Rod Laver Arena.

The 24-year-old Belarussian's powerful forehand and ability to win the key points ultimately made the difference.

Sabalenka blasted 38 winners for the match, the majority on her forehand, compared to Dekic's 21, while she also sent down nine aces.

Neither player was able to assert themselves in a disjointed first set, where Sabalenka got the first break in the fourth game with a deft drop shot, only for Vekic to respond immediately with a break back.

Vekic won only four-of-17 second-serve points in the first set, committing nine double faults, as Sabalenka broke again for 5-3 before serving out the opening frame.

Sabalenka appeared set to cruise into the last four when she broke Vekic again in the opening game of the second frame, racing to a 3-0 lead, before the Croatian showed some fight.

Data slam: Sabalenka clutch under pressure

The match was closer than the scoreline suggested, with eight of the first 12 games going to deuce, but Sabalenka's big-game experience arguably held her in good stead under pressure.

The Belarussian faced nine break points in the first set, saving eight of those, while she finished the match surviving 12 of 14, including three in the decisive game.

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Sabalenka– 9/9
Vekic– 4/13

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Sabalenka– 38/35
Vekic– 21/25

BREAK POINTS WON

Sabalenka– 5/13
Vekic– 2/14

Poland will have a woman in the semi-final of the Australian Open after Magda Linette emerged victorious 6-3 7-5 in Wednesday's quarter-final against Karolina Pliskova.

World number one Iga Swiatek was expected to be flying the flag for Poland deep into the tournament, but after her surprising exit it is now the 30-year-old Linette who will try to step up and go all the way.

Having never advanced past the third round at any of her previous 29 grand slam appearances, Linette has now hit a remarkable run of form that includes consecutive wins over world number 19 Anett Kontaveit, world number 18 Ekaterina Alexandrova, and world number four Caroline Garcia.

Against Pliskova – a former world number one – Linette capitalised on some sloppy play as her Czech opponent committed an uncharacteristic 36 unforced errors with only 18 winners.

Pliskova also committed seven double-faults, leading to a meagre 58 per cent success rate (34-of-59) from her service points, while Linette converted at a 70 per cent clip (45-of-64).

Speaking on the court immediately after her triumph, Linette said: "I will never forget this. This is the first time ever I'm breaking through some really difficult things for me. This will stay with me for life, so I'm really grateful and super happy for the support."

Linette will face the winner between Aryna Sabalenka and Donna Vekic in the semi-final, while Elena Rybakina and Victoria Azarenka will battle it out for the other spot in the decider.

Victoria Azarenka sympathised with Novak Djokovic as she stated tennis players are "not villains" after reaching the Australian Open semi-finals for the first time in a decade.

Azarenka beat Jessica Pegula 6-4 6-1 on Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday to set up a last-four meeting with Elena Rybakina.

Former world number one Azarenka came in for criticism when she took a medical timeout during her last semi-final at Melbourne Park back in 2013, delaying her match against Sloane Stephens by 10 minutes.

The Belarusian, who is now 33, returned to beat Stephens and went on to defend successfully her title.

Questions have been raised over the extent of a hamstring issue nine-time Australian Open champion Djokovic has been contending with as he attempts to match Rafael Nadal's tally of 22 major triumphs this weekend.

Azarenka feels it is out of order for such suspicions to be raised by people who are not aware of the facts.

She said: "Do you know what happened 10 years ago? That's the thing.

"It was one of the worst things that I've ever gone through in my professional career, the way I was treated after that moment, the way I had to explain myself until 10:30pm at night because people didn't want to believe me. I actually can resonate what Novak said the other day.

"There is sometimes incredible desire for a villain and a hero story that has to be written. But we're not villains, we're not heroes, we are regular human beings that go through so many, many things.

"Assumptions and judgements, all those comments, are just s*** because nobody's there to see the full story. It didn't matter how many times I said my story, it did not cut through.

"Actually it's funny that you're saying that because I was thinking about it. It took me 10 f****** years to get over it. I finally am over that."

Asked to expound what the judgements or assumptions she experienced were, Azarenka said: "I've been called that I'm cheating, that I'm faking, that I was trying to throw people off their game. It's everything that is so wrong about my character if somebody actually knows me.

"At some point I've heard that she has this thing that is bad or this thing is bad, whatever. At some point you're like, 'Really? Am I?'. Those doubts starts to creep in.

"Now I just don't care. I am more and more confident in what I know about myself, and I'm at peace with that. Those comments, judgements, they're there. I notice them. But I don't care."

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