The last four women battle it out for the final places. The Australian Open Women’s Singles reaches the semi-final stage at Melbourne Park on Thursday, with two former Grand Slam winners still in contention for the title.
Reigning Wimbledon Champion Elena Rybakina, 23 years, ranked 25 faces off against two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, 33 years, ranked 24, in the first semi-final.
The highest-ranked player remaining in the draw – Aryna Sabalenka, 24 years, ranked 5 – takes on Poland’s Magda Linette, 30 years, ranked 45, in the other semi-final.
Unlike two of her remaining rivals, Sabalenka has yet to win a Grand Slam. Elena Rybakina was a surprise winner of Wimbledon last year and the Kazakh travelled to Melbourne having done little to suggest she would be in contention to win a second Grand Slam title.
Rybakina crashed out of the US Open in the opening round and her only result of any note in the Autumn came when she suffered a defeat in the final of a low-grade 250 Series event in Slovenia.
Rybakina was unhappy after she was scheduled to Court 13 for her first round at Melbourne Park, a move that seems to have spurred her on to subsequent wins over former finalist Danielle Collins, World No.1 Iga Swiatek and one-time French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko.
She deserves to be favourite for this clash with Azarenka, but the Belarusian has been just as impressive in reaching the final four, beating former champion Sofia Kenin first up and since accounting for two more high-class Americans, Madison Keys and Jessica Pegula.
At her very best, Azarenka is a test for any opponent and while the 33-year-old is not quite the force she once was, she has managed to find the form approaching that which took her to two Australian Open titles, so Rybakina would be wise not to underestimate her opponent.
The Kazakh ran out a dominant 6-3, 6-4 winner when these players clashed in Indian Wells in 2022, there only previous meeting, but Azarenka had barely played in the build-up to that contest and it’s clear that she’s a much better player with a run of matches under her belt.
And, while Rybakina has served superbly throughout the tournament, she’ll need her delivery to be spot-on again against Azarenka, who is one of the best returners in the women’s game when on top form.
While the Wimbledon champion is the more likely winner, Azarenka will relish the chance to go toe-to-toe with her from the baseline and the underdog is not without a chance, as match odds of 7/4 suggest.
Only Iga Swiatek was a shorter price than Aryna Sabalenka before a ball was struck at the 2023 AO and the Belarusian world No.5 heads into the semi-finals as the outright favourite.
The big-hitting 24-year-old has never gone beyond the last four at a Slam before, falling at this stage at Wimbledon in 2021 and in each of the last two US Opens.
This is a good chance for Sabalenka to advance to a first Slam final. Standing in her way is Poland’s unseeded Magda Linette, a capable performer but not one who would’ve been on the radar of many outright punters, having been available to back at 300/1 at the beginning of the tournament.
Linette shocked Caroline Garcia and Karolina Pliskova to reach this stage, beating both in straight sets, but a semi-final meeting with a red-hot Sabalenka is undoubtedly a tougher test.
The pair have met twice before and Sabalenka dominated both clashes, winning 6-1, 6-3 in Tianjin, China, in 2018 and 6-2, 6-1 at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
That spells trouble for Linette, as does her opponent’s recent form both before and at the AO. The 5th seed began the season with a victory at the Adelaide International 1, where she didn’t drop a set, and she has been in similarly ruthless form at Melbourne Park, racking up five straight 2-0 victories, losing just 26 games in total.
A good option might be to have a punt on Sabalenka at odds of 1/1 to win the tournament.
Rybakina has since beaten Azarenka, 7-6(4), 6-3. Sabalenka has beaton Linette 7-6(1), 6-2. These two players will now meet on Saturday for the finals.