Women's singles semifinals
Aryna Sabalenka has stormed into the Australian Open 2023 women's singles final after a formidable 7-6(1) 6-2 victory over Magda Linette on Thursday night.
MORE: All the scores from Day 11 at AO 2023
Under the lights in cool temperatures on Rod Laver Arena, the fifth seed swung her way to victory in one hour and 33 minutes, wresting a maiden Grand Slam final from her opponent's grasp with brute power.
"I'm super happy that I was able to get this win," said Sabalenka. "She's an unbelievable player, she played really great tennis."
Sabalenka has been two wins away from a maiden Grand Slam title thrice before. Each time she was devastatingly close, falling in three sets.
But the fifth seed had been unbeatable since landing Down Under, snapping up an Adelaide International title en route to a nine-match win streak, during which she hasn't dropped a set.
Through the quarterfinals, the 24-year-old struck an incredible 163 winners to win 343 points, a ratio that's markedly higher than any other player, male or female.
Sabalenka entered the semifinal with a 2-0 head-to-head advantage over Linette, having dropped just seven games across the two victories.
MORE: AO 2023 women's singles draw
But in sport, nothing is a given. Linette, too, has been near unplayable in Melbourne.
Just the eighth woman in the Open Era to make her final four debut at a major after turning 30, the Pole did it the hard way by toppling four seeds, and was eyeing off Sabalenka as a potential fifth scalp.
Story of the match
Contesting the first night match of her AO 2023 campaign, Sabalenka was broken to love in a nervy opening game.
But the determined 24-year-old quickly began to unleash on her groundstrokes, snapping up five straight points to break Linette in the fourth game to even proceedings.
Despite all-out offence, Sabalenka found herself unable to perturb Linette. The Pole, who had easily absorbed the pace of powerful ball-strikers earlier this fortnight, displayed impeccable defence once again.
Linette, an expert counterpuncher, frustrated her fifth-seeded foe by redirecting blistering groundstrokes for down-the-line winners.
Serving to stay in the match at 5-6, Linette served an untimely double fault to find herself in a 0-30 hole before coming up with a string of fearless forehands to force a tiebreak.
A ruthless Sabalenka then upped the ante, striking groundstrokes that were roughly 10km/h faster than those she delivered earlier in the set. A Linette forehand return sailed long to gift her adversary the first set.
"I would say I didn't start really well. In the tiebreak, I kind of find my rhythm, start trusting myself, start going for the shots," said Sabalenka.
In the second set, Linette blinked first, conceding a break under pressure from a particularly heavy Sabalenka backhand. A perfectly-placed approach backhand earned the fifth seed yet another break and a 4-1 lead.
But no-one is infallible. Sabalenka found herself in a position needing to fend off three break points, which she valiantly did to hold for 5-1.
With the finish line tantalisingly close for Sabalenka, Linette made a last charge, saving three match points to force her favoured rival to serve it out.
But eager to convert the first match point on her racquet, Sabalenka punched a crisp inside-out forehand winner to seal her first major semifinal victory.
"She was moving really well, putting everything back," Sabalenka said of Linette.
"I felt like a little bit under pressure, which I expect[ed]."
The 24-year-old explained her relatively muted celebration on reaching her first Grand Slam decider was because the job's not done.
"There is still one more match to go," said the focused right-hander. "Just happy that I made this next step. I know that I have to work for that title."
Sabalenka's penchant for smacking winners to close out points was on display. She struck 33 winners to win 71 points, a 46 per cent ratio in line with her all-guns-blazing approach this fortnight.
MORE: Sabalenka v Linette match statistics
The fifth seed was able to win 70 per cent of first serve points, compared to her rival's 59 per cent.
What this means for Sabalenka
In Saturday's final, Sabalenka will compete for her first Grand Slam singles title against 22nd seed and reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, who outclassed two-time champion Victoria Azarenka earlier on Thursday night.
"She's an amazing player, she's playing great tennis, super aggressive and she's already got one Grand Slam so she kind of has this experience playing [a] final," Sabalenka said of her Kazakh rival.
"I'm really looking forward to this final," added the fifth seed, who has a 3-0 head-to-head record over Rybakina.
By reaching the final, Sabalenka is guaranteed to return to an equal-career high No.2.
What's next for Linette?
Despite the loss, the Pole can leave Melbourne with her head held high.
After becoming just the third Polish woman to reach the AO semis in the Open Era, Linette is poised to rise to a career-high No.22 after her heroics this fortnight.
That means she'll likely be seeded at upcoming majors, where she'll have opportunities to get a little closer to the final weekend's silverware.