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Sabalenka, Rybakina set up Australian Open final rematch

Elena Rybakina celebrates winning her first round match against Shelby Rogers of the US. — Reuters
Elena Rybakina celebrates winning her first round match against Shelby Rogers of the US. — Reuters
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Brisbane, Australia: Top seed Aryna Sabalenka swept past Victoria Azarenka on Saturday into a Brisbane International final against world number four Elena Rybakina, setting up a replay of last year's Australian Open decider.


Sabalenka saw off her fellow Belarusian 6-2, 6-4 while 2022 Wimbledon champion Rybakina cruised past Czech teenager Linda Noskova 6-3, 6-2.


Sabalenka leads their head-to-head 5-2, including a three-set win in the Australian Open final last year that earned her a maiden Grand Slam title.


But their clashes are usually tight, with five of the seven meetings going to three sets.


"I think we both serve really well," Sabalenka said of Rybakina.


"We both play really super aggressive tennis. I think that's why all the matches are pretty tight. We both put each other under so much pressure."


Russian-born Kazakh Rybakina put on a serving masterclass against Noskova, blasting eight aces, breaking her opponent once in the first set and twice in the second.


She has only lost 12 games on the way to the final and is yet to drop serve in a perfect build up to this year's Australian Open.


"I didn't expect I would play that well this week," said the second seed, adding that she had been sick before arriving in Brisbane.


"It's an amazing start to the year for me."


World number two Sabalenka has also had an impressive tournament, not dropping a set.


She broke Azarenka twice in racing through the first set in just 35 minutes.


But two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka was better in the second and matched her younger rival until serving at 4-5 when she appeared to jar her knee.


She lost power in her serve and Sabalenka broke to take the match in 1hr 29min.


Azarenka later denied there was a problem with her knee, saying she instead had an issue with her side throughout the match.


"From the beginning of the match I wasn't able to do what I wanted with my serves," she said. "I definitely need a little rest and then I'll be getting ready for the Australian Open."


In the men's draw, top seed Holger Rune will play second seed Grigor Dimitrov in the final after the Dane beat Russia's Roman Safiullin 6-4, 7-6 (7/0).


Rune, the world number eight, was able to absorb the big-hitting of Safiullin, who hit 27 clean winners but also made 28 unforced errors.


After Rune broke Safiullin's opening service game and won the first set, the Russian had the better of the second set but collapsed in the tiebreak.


"It's been a great week so far," Rune said.


"Playing some good matches against some great players. I'm excited for tomorrow and then Melbourne."


Dimitrov eased through by seeing off Australian Jordan Thompson, who beat Rafael Nadal in the three-and-a-half hour marathon on Friday night.


Thompson fought hard once again, but Dimitrov broke him once in each set to win 6-3, 7-5.


— AFP


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