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Aryna Sabalenka will defend her Australian Open title against Zheng Qinwen after beating Coco Gauff in straight sets… as the Chinese star, 21, reaches her first ever Grand Slam final with triumph over Dayana Yastremska

  • Sabalenka previously lost out to Gauff in the final of the US Open in New York 
  • The 25-year-old came close to blowing a confident lead in the opening set 
  • Gauff was unable to respond late on in the second set despite first-set firepower 

Aryna Sabalenka is one match away from sealing back-to-back Australian Open victories after dispatching Coco Gauff 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 on Thursday evening. 

The Belarusian world No 2 only needed two sets to defeat the 19-year-old US Open winner, despite an early wobble which saw her squander a 5-2 lead in the opening set. 

Sabalenka will now defend her title against Zheng Qinwen, after the 21-year-old Chinese star cruised past Dayana Yastremska in straight sets on Thursday.

Saturday’s showpiece marks Zheng’s first ever Grand Slam final. 

Before being taken to task by Gauff, Sabalenka hadn’t lost more than three games in a single set throughout her tournament run.  

Aryna Sabalenka will look to secure back-to-back Australian Open titles after reaching the final

Aryna Sabalenka will look to secure back-to-back Australian Open titles after reaching the final

Coco Gauff unsettled the Belarusian at last year's US Open but was unable to disrupt her dominance Down Under

Coco Gauff unsettled the Belarusian at last year’s US Open but was unable to disrupt her dominance Down Under

Sabalenka will now defend her Australian Open title against Zheng Qinwen (above), after the 21-year-old Chinese star cruised past Dayana Yastremska in straight sets on Thursday

Sabalenka will now defend her Australian Open title against Zheng Qinwen (above), after the 21-year-old Chinese star cruised past Dayana Yastremska in straight sets on Thursday

Nerves were on show from both and Gauff hit back to level, but five double faults from the American in her opening three service games proved very costly and Sabalenka opened up a 5-2 lead.

The number two seed failed to serve out the set at 5-3 and Gauff saved a set point in the next game before making it four games in a row, the crowd gasping as the Belarusian pushed a forehand wide with the whole court at her mercy.

Gauff was two points away from taking the set but Sabalenka refused to let history repeat itself, forcing a tie-break, where she put on a display of awesome power that even the athletic American could find no answer to.

Gauff kept her nose in front on serve in the second set and a real test of Sabalenka’s nerve arrived when she trailed 0-30 in the eighth game.

But the 25-year-old responded with four exceptional points, broke Gauff in the next game and served out the victory to become the first woman since Serena Williams in 2016 and 2017 to reach successive finals here.

Sabalenka and Gauff last met in the final at Flushing Meadows last year, with the 25-year-old taking the teenager the distance, but ultimately losing 6-2 3-6 2-6. 

Before the match, Sabalenka had stressed that she had been hungry for ‘revenge’ after defeat on Arthur Ashe, but lauded her opponent for always providing a ‘great battle’. 

After the tie she was similarly complimentary as she wished for more encounters with the world No 4. 

‘She’s an incredible player. I really enjoy playing her,’ Sabalenka said in her on-court remarks. ‘Win or lose, it’s great matches. 

But the 25-year-old first-set wobble hinted that the tie could be taken the distance on Thursday

But the 25-year-old first-set wobble hinted that the tie could be taken the distance on Thursday

Gauff battled back from 5-2 down to force a tiebreak in the first set at Rod Laver Arena

Gauff battled back from 5-2 down to force a tiebreak in the first set at Rod Laver Arena

But Sabalenka held her nerve to see out the set before a composed run in the second set

But Sabalenka held her nerve to see out the set before a composed run in the second set

Sabalenka is the first woman since Serena Williams in 2016 and 2017 to reach successive finals in Australia

Sabalenka is the first woman since Serena Williams in 2016 and 2017 to reach successive finals in Australia

‘I really hope in the future we’re gonna play many more finals. Hopefully I’m gonna win all of them.’

With a place in the final confirmed, Sabalenka will be watching the second semi-final with interest. 

Dayana Yastremka battled through qualifiers before securing her spot in the main draw last week, but has cut a swathe through her competitors, most recently overturning Linda Noskova with relative ease 6-3 6-4. 

The Ukrainian will have a formidable opponent in Zheng Qinwen however – the number 12 seed pulled off a comeback victory against Anna Kalinskaya 6-7 (7-4), 6-3, 6-1 and will enter the top 10 for the first term following a strong run in Melbourne

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