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Women's Day 9 preview: Settle in for the first two quarterfinals

  • Ravi Ubha

Tuesday serves up the first of AO 2023's quarterfinals as the women's title hunt continues. 

MORE: Day 9 schedule of play

DRAW: Australian Open 2023 women's singles

With plenty of Grand Slam experience among the four women's singles contenders on Day 9, here are two match-ups worthy of a front-row seat. 

Elena Rybakina [22] v Jelena Ostapenko [17]

Head to head: 0-2

Elena Rybakina might note a similarity between last year’s Wimbledon and this Australian Open. 

Heading into SW19, Rybakina contested a pair of grass-court tune-ups and posted a 1-2 record. 

The tally couldn’t have foretold what was to come but her power game flourished as she became the first player from Kazakhstan to land a Grand Slam singles crown. 

Entering AO 2023, the 23-year-old just happened to go 1-2 in two warm-up events.

No-one would have counted her out given her Grand Slam crown, but in case anyone needs reminding of her pedigree, Rybakina upset world No.1 Iga Swiatek in straight sets on Sunday to reach the quarterfinals.

Despite exiting prior to the quarterfinals at both Adelaide 1 and Adelaide 2, Rybakina felt better ahead of Melbourne than London in 2022.

“I lost in Adelaide, I was of course a bit upset because I thought that I’m actually playing well, feeling good,” said Rybakina. “But still, it doesn’t mean if you do good preparation that you are going to win everything.

“So, I knew that I keep going. We analysed the last two weeks, in the end there’s going to come a moment when I’m going to feel good on the court and start winning.”  


Elena Rybakina (Getty Images)

Rybakina overturned break deficits in both sets to defeat Swiatek, heavily assisted by her first serve.

She won 80 per cent of her first-serve points, the most of any player against the Pole in her most recent 35 Grand Slam matches.  

Overall at this Australian Open, Rybakina’s 82 per cent of points won behind the first serve leads the women’s draw. 

Oh, and she also struck the fastest serve, at 195kph. 

“Yeah, for sure it's my strength and weapon,” said Rybakina. “For now, I’m happy with the serve, especially this week.”

Rybakina played with a certain level of freedom against Swiatek, suggested by her post-match phrase of having “nothing to lose.”

Even if her ranking is lower than her next opponent Jelena Ostapenko — no ranking points on offer at Wimbledon ensured that — downing Swiatek must make her Tuesday’s favourite. 

Or does it? 

Ostapenko boasts a Grand Slam title, too, and beat Rybakina in their previous two matches.


Jelena Ostapenko

Both are appearing in a maiden quarterfinal at Melbourne Park, and are now only missing the US Open to complete a career quarterfinal sweep at majors.

If Rybakina rarely gives anything away through her on-court demeanour, the same cannot be said of the Latvian — and she knows it. 

"I THINK I HAVE ALL THE CHANCES": Ostapenko confident of a continuing run

“With me it's never boring on the court, so I think that's what the fans like,” laughed Ostapenko.

“Of course, sometimes I can go a little bit too much, but I'm an emotional person in general. So, it's always hard to find this balance. 

“As I always said, it's easy to judge from the outside, but when you are in my place, it's a little bit different. All the people are different. Somebody is more calm. Somebody is more emotional.

“I try to find a balance, and I'm looking for it now. I feel like this week is a bit better.”

Ostapenko authored a straight-sets upset of her own on Sunday, beating French Open finalist Coco Gauff thanks in part to a tidy tally of 30 winners and only 27 unforced errors. 

Once hitting 25 double faults in a single match, her total this fortnight stands at only 15. 

Her 54 winners in the 2017 French Open final against Simona Halep gave tennis fans one of the earliest glimpses of her incredible ball-striking ability.  

“I love to play on the big courts, so I really enjoy it and with a lot of fans,” said Ostapenko. “If I play my game, I think I have all the chances.”

Jessica Pegula [3] v Victoria Azarenka [24]

Head to head: 2-2

A two-time Australian Open champion and former world No.1, Victoria Azarenka is the most accomplished player left in the women’s draw. 

Her bid to land a third Grand Slam title and first since 2013 continues against friend and Gauff’s doubles partner, Jessica Pegula

Azarenka outlasted surprise package Zhu Lin in close to three hours in the early hours of Monday, her first encounter against a Chinese opponent in Melbourne since bettering Li Na in that 2013 finale. 

Victoria Azarenka (Getty Images)

Zhu blasted her flat ground strokes, with Azarenka feeling the world No.87’s power “from every angle, on the run, off the run, on the line. I felt like everything is, going in,” the 33-year-old said. 

But Azarenka adjusted and not for the first time in her career. She saved two break points at 5-4 in the third set, one with an audacious backhand that almost flew long.  

VICTORIA AZARENKA: "I feel like I've found that balance"

Even before Zhu, Azarenka toppled an Australian Open champion [Sofia Kenin], Grand Slam semifinalist [Nadia Podoroska] and Grand Slam finalist [Madison Keys]. 

Pegula, though, has not dropped a set at this tournament after helping the US win the inaugural United Cup. 

“She's a great friend of mine,” said Azarenka. “I absolutely adore her. We have really tough battles every single time. We practise with each other. There's going to be no surprises absolutely. 

“It's going to be tough, it's going to be a lot of rallies, the ball is going to be low.”

Pegula’s win over Azarenka in 2021’s first round set the 28-year-old on her way. 

Ranked 61 at the time, Pegula would go on to make a first Grand Slam quarterfinal one week later. The climb hasn’t stopped and Pegula sits at a career high third in the rankings. 

Jessica Pegula

She is the highest ranked female player still around, after the departures of Swiatek and Ons Jabeur. 

Pegula is now well accustomed to making quarterfinals at majors but seeks a first semifinal. 

“To get to a semi would be amazing,” said the American. “I can't believe I've made quarters here three years in a row. It's gone by so fast. It feels like I was just here last year doing all of this.”

Pegula evened her record against Azarenka at two wins apiece by prevailing in straight sets in the high altitude conditions of Guadalajara in October. 

The rarefied air of a semifinal is within the grasp of Tuesday’s protagonists.