MELBOURNE, Jan 26 — Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka will attempt on Thursday to set up an all-Belarusian final at the Australian Open, and in doing so give organisers a headache.
Two-time Melbourne champion Azarenka faces Elena Rybakina in the first women’s semi-final on Rod Laver Arena, with Sabalenka up against Poland’s unseeded Magda Linette after that.
Should Azarenka and Sabalenka progress to Saturday’s final, it will be the first time two Belarusian players have contested the championship match at a tennis major.
“I really want it to happen,” said Sabalenka, the fifth seed who is yet to drop a set in 2023 after winning the Adelaide International earlier this month.
“I know that Vika will do everything she can to make it happen. I will do everything I can to make it happen. That’s going to be history.”
It could pose a challenge, however, for organisers of the first Grand Slam of the year.
Players from Russia and Belarus are competing at the Australian Open as independents under a neutral white flag because of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The flags of Russia and Belarus — a key Moscow ally — are banned at Melbourne Park.
Surprise-package Linette and Moscow-born Kazakh Rybakina will have no interest in Belarusian history lessons.
Sabalenka is the highest-ranked player left in the women’s draw at fifth in the world and is favourite to win her first Grand Slam.
But she will be wary of 45th-ranked Linette, who has already accounted for four seeds on her surprise journey into the last four.
The 33-year-old Azarenka is chasing a hat-trick of titles at Melbourne Park, 10 years after she won her second, but knows she similarly has her work cut out against the dangerous Rybakina.
The 22nd-seeded Rybakina has a huge serve and won Wimbledon last year.
She was awarded no ranking points for it because of Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players last year, otherwise she would have been in the top 10 now.
The 23-year-old defeated top seed and world number one Iga Swiatek in the fourth round.
“She’s a very good, solid player. Her ranking obviously doesn’t tell the full story,” said Azarenka, seeded 24.
“Very powerful. Big serve. She’s in the semi-final, so she’s obviously playing amazing,” Azarenka added. — AFP