Two of tennis’ most powerful women square off for their first Australian Open title as Aryna Sabalenka battles Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina tonight.
Then, Australian wildcard doubles pair Rinky Hijikata and Jason Kubler will look to make it back-to-back years of local champions at the event.
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Sabalenka cruises into first Slam Final! | 01:53
SABALENKA v RYBAKINA LIVE UPDATES
In what could’ve been a derailing start, Sabalenka opened the match with a double fault, but followed it up with an ace before the power-hitting commenced between the two.
Sabalenka ultimately closed out the game to 15 in a strong start after an early hiccup.
Rybakina responded with aces of her own as the free points began to rack up considerably.
“Is anyone actually going to hit the ball out here?”, Sam Smith joked on Channel Nine, not long before Sabalenka hammered down another ace, making it seven between the pair in the opening two and a half games.
Sabalenka’s first serve abandoned her later in the game, however, with Rybakina taking full advantage and breaking serve for the first time in the match, despite Sabalenka having held a 40-love lead.
Rybakina held to 15 to consolidate the break and go up 4-1.
Sabalenka faced more trouble later in the set, serving at 2-4 and at 30-all, but she won the next two points to hold for 3-4.
Rybakina faltered for the first time in the match, going down 0-40 and despite saving one of the break points was broken by a pass from Sabalenka, who let out a roar as she got a foothold in the match.
The relief would be short-lived for Sabalenka, however, who faced two break points in her following service game and handed the break back to Rybakina with a double fault at 30-40.
The speed of Sabalenka’s second serves were noticeably above their average, which had Alicia Molik concerned in commentary.
“I kind of worry how much she’s pushing her second serve, she’s hit the ceiling in terms of speed,” she said.
“I’m not sure this is sustainable for an entire match.”
Rybakina didn’t err on her serve this time around, holding comfortably to seal the first set, which is the first set Sabalenka had lost all summer.
Sabalenka held serve to open the second set, but couldn’t break through despite getting Rybakina to deuce in the following game.
Her breakthrough would eventually come with Rybakina serving at 1-2, with the Belarusian finally going ahead a break.
It was around this time that doubles legend Pam Shriver appeared to take aim at Rybakina’s coach, Stefano Vukov, for his controversial treatment of his charge.
Sabalenka had to deal with multiple deuces in her next service game, but powered through for 4-1.
She had chances for a double break in the following game, but Rybakina held firm for 2-4, after which Sabalenka quickly held for 5-2.
Rybakina had to stave off several set points in an engrossing eighth game of the set, but held for 3-5.
“The Sabalenka serve is going to be under investigation now,” Molik said as Sabalenka prepared to serve for the set.
“This will be telling.”
While the game got to 30-all, Sabalenka eventually slammed down a serve to seal the set and send the final to a decider.
Rybakina served first in the deciding set and things returned to some form of normality as the serves came to the fore once more.
Sabalenka managed to bring up a break point at 2-all as the first serve of Rybakina eluded her, but the Wimbledon champion saved it with a strong delivery and ultimately got through unscathed for 3-2.
Rybakina saved another break point at 3-3, 30-40, but was under significant strain from the power of Sabalenka.
On her third break point of the game, Sabalenka pounced and put away an overhead to go ahead 4-3.
Sabalenka squandered a 40-15 lead in the following game and was brought to deuce, but some big serving got her through for 5-3.
SABALENKA v RYBAKINA PREVIEW
Aryna Sabalenka is looking to cap a stunning form turnaround with a breakthrough major as she takes on 22nd seed Elena Rybakina in the Australian Open final tonight.
In Adelaide last year, Sabalenka was left in tears as her second serve abandoned her, with the 24-year-old resorting to underarm serves at stages and crashing out of the first round in both lead-in tournaments before a fourth-round exit at the Australian Open.
That year, Sabalenka served up 440 double faults – 151 more than the second-worst on Tour – but working with a biomechanics specialist saw the fifth seed become virtually a different player this Australian summer.
“I was, in that moment, open for whatever. I was just like, ‘Please, someone help me to fix this f***ing serve,’” Sabalenka during her success at Melbourne Park this year.
Sabalenka is currently undefeated in 2023, including a title-run in Adelaide and the run to the final here without dropping a set in either, making her the first since Agnieszka Radwanska in 2013 to do so.
She has long been discussed as one of the most talented players on tour yet to win a major.
The Belarusian will have her work cut out for her against Rybakina, with the reigning Wimbledon champion one of the few players on Tour who can match her for power from the back of the court.
Rybakina has charged through the tournament, taking out former grand slam champions Iga Swiatek, Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka en route to the final.
She is yet to defeat Sabalenka in the pair’s three meetings, but each required a deciding set and the pair haven’t faced each other since Rybakina became a grand slam champion at Wimbledon last year.
While Sabalenka’s serve is much-improved, her also-powerful opponent has struck a tournament-best 45 aces so far.
But what staggered Aussie wheelchair tennis great Dylan Alcott about Rybakina was her attitude.
“She probably didn’t get the respect she deserved for this Wimbledon win,” Alcott said on Nine.
“To play that well (in the final), it’s really going to hold her in good stead against Sabalenka who is there for the first time.
“What I will say is I saw Rybakina before – very lucky I have held on to my player accreditation for one more year, I can get in the cafe – she is such a chiller. She is so relaxed. She’s about to play a Grand Slam final!”
Big serving Rybakina fires into final | 01:12
‘LOVE THIS SO MUCH’: EMOTIONS SPILL OUT AFTER GIRLS’ FINAL
Tennis fans were touched after a heartfelt moment following a thrilling Australian Open junior girls’ final on Saturday afternoon.
Russian 15-year-olds and friends Alina Korneeva and Mirra Andreeva faced off in the title decider with Korneeva coming back from a set down to prevail 6-7(2) 6-4 7-5 in a mammoth three-hour, 18-minute match.
Korneeva threw away two championship points serving at 5-4 in the final set but broke back right away to seal the title.
The close result left Andreeva in tears but Korneeva quickly ran over to her friend to console her, which melted many on social media.
“Love this so much!!! Go girls!!! No one deserved to lose,” injured Australian star Daria Saville tweeted.
Prominent tennis journalist Stephanie Myles added: “Totally class behaviour by the champion, whispering words of comfort in Andreeva’s ear before going on to celebrate it.”
While a junior slam title is no guarantee of future success, two-time champion Victoria Azarenka and semi-finalist Karolina Pliskova are among those on the Melbourne Park honour roll, while Ash Barty, Simona Halep, Iga Swiatek and Caroline Wozniacki won titles at both junior and professional level.
Stef gives Philippoussis a cheeky dig | 00:33
AUSTRALIAN OPEN DAY 13 – ORDER OF PLAY (All times AEDT)
Rod Laver Arena
Matches start from 7:30pm
Women’s Final:  Elena Rybakina (KAZ) v  Aryna Sabalenka
Men’s Doubles Final: Rinky Hijikata (AUS) / Jason Kubler (AUS) v Hugo Nys (MON) / Jan Zielinski (POL)
Follow the Australian Open in the live blog below!