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Updated January 25th, 2024 at 17:14 IST

Defending champion Sabalenka beats U.S. Open winner Gauff to reach Australian Open final

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Defending champion Sabalenka beats U.S. Open winner Gauff to reach Australian Open final.

Aryna Sabalenka
Aryna Sabalenka | Image:AP
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Defending champion Aryna Sabalenka avenged a U.S. Open final loss to Coco Gauff and became the first woman since Serena Williams to reach back-to-back finals at the Australian Open on Thursday.

Sabalenka attacked Gauff’s serve throughout a 7-6 (2), 6-4 semifinal win.

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She will meet Zheng Qinwen or Dayana Yastremska in Saturday’s championship decider. Zheng and No. 93-ranked Yastremska were playing their first ever Grand Slam semifinal.

Sabalenka is on a 13-match roll at Melbourne Park, where she made her Grand Slam breakthrough last year. Williams reached consecutive finals here in 2015, ’16 and ’17.

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Gauff went into the semifinals unbeaten in 2024 after winning a title in Auckland, New Zealand.

The 19-year-old American was on a 12-match winning streak in majors and attempting to be the first player since Naomi Osaka in 2020-21 to win the U.S. Open and Australian Open titles back to back.

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She’d worked out how to beat Sabalenka in New York last September to win her first major title, but didn’t have the answers this time against the only player in the final four with semifinal experience in Australia.

The first set contained six service breaks, with both players missing opportunities to serve it out.

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Sabalenka led 5-2 and missed a set point as Gauff held firm and went on a four-game roll to take a 6-5 lead. Gauff also couldn’t serve it out, with Sabalenka’s booming returns continuing to cause her trouble.

In the tiebreaker, Sabalenka raced to 5-1. Chants of “Coco, Coco” went up around Rod Laver Arena but they didn’t help Gauff.

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Almost a half-hour after her first set point, Sabalenka got five more. She clinched on the second of those with a big serve out wide.

Gauff was able to win points on only three of her 17 second serves in the first set, and that made her push harder and led to double-faults.

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The second set was tight, until Sabalenka got a service break in the ninth game.

She missed her first match point when Gauff saved with a forehand winner to end a 12-shot rally.

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An ace down the middle earned a second match point and Sabalenka clinched it after 1 hour, 42 minutes.

In doubles, 43-year-old Rohan Bopanna and Matthew Ebden advanced to their second consecutive Grand Slam men’s final by beating Zhang Zhizhen and Tomas Machac 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7).

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Tournament officials said Bopanna and Ebden, at a combined age of 79 years, will become the oldest No. 1 pairing in tennis history after the tournament.

Bopanna and Ebden, ranked second in men’s doubles, lost to Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury in the U.S. Open final last September.

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In Saturday’s final, they’ll play Italian pair Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori.


 

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Published January 25th, 2024 at 17:14 IST

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