Sabalenka, Linette set up Australian Open semifinal clash
Previously, Magda Linette – the Polish world number 45 – had never moved beyond third round in any Grand Slam. But she is now carrying her country’s hopes after the early exit of top seeded Iga Swiatek, three-time Grand Slam winner.

Fifth seed Belarussian Aryna Sabalenka demolished Croatia’s Donna Vekic on Wednesday to reach her fourth Grand Slam semifinal where she will meet Magda Linette of Poland, who overpowered Karolina Pliskova.

Hence, the Australian Open semifinal lineup is now complete in the women’s single competition as two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka plays Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the other semi-final on Thursday.

The Polish world number 45 had previously never gone beyond the third round of a Grand Slam in 29 attempts. But she produced a fearless display in a 6-3 7-5 win over Czech two-time major finalist Pliskova on Rod Laver Arena. Linette had lost seven of her previous nine matches against Pliskova of the Czech Republic

Many would have predicted Poland to be represented in the latter stages of the women’s draw, given the form of world number one Iga Swiatek.

But while Swiatek’s bid ended in the fourth round, Linette’s best Grand Slam run extended to a fifth win at Melbourne Park as she dispatched former world number one.

Well supported on the main show-court, Linette recovered from being broken in the first game of the match to take control of the set, winning five of the following six games.

Her lack of experience in the second week at a Slam did not show as she saved a break point before serving out the set, with Pliskova tossing aside her racquet in frustration after dropping her first set of the tournament.

Having beaten world number four Caroline Garcia on her march to the last eight, Linette’s confidence was evident against a misfiring Pliskova.

After saving two break points at 2-1 down in the second set, the Pole created three opportunities of her own in both the fifth and seventh games as she sought a decisive blow.

With Pliskova increasingly troubled by a wrist injury, Linette was eventually able to capitalise on a break opportunity before serving out the biggest win of her career.

“I think all my life I’ve been taking mistakes and losses very personally,” Linette said. “My coaches did a really great job and I’m thankful to them because they put up with a lot.”

“I’m so emotional. I can’t really believe it. It is really a dream come true. I’m super grateful and happy,” Linette, 30, said. “I will never forget this. This will stay with me for life.”

In the last quarterfinal, Sabalenka, who has won all her nine matches this season in straight sets, defeated Vekic 6-3 6-2.

Although Sabalenka and Vekic arrived at their first Australian Open quarter-finals unbeaten in 2023, both players struggled for rhythm in a low quality first set littered with double faults and unforced errors.

Vekic admitted prior to the match that she had twice considered retiring from tennis after struggling to regain her form following knee surgery in 2021.

Her second major quarterfinal, and first since the 2019 US Open, marked a significant milestone in her recovery.

However it was the big-hitting Sabalenka who was able to claim the key points to edge a challenging hour-long opener, with world number 64 Vekic taking just one of her 10 break point opportunities.

Sabalenka further tightened her grip on the contest with a double break to start the second set before Vekic hit back with a break of her own.

But Sabalenka quickly extinguished the Croat’s faint hopes of a fightback, restoring her double break with a terrific forehand winner for 4-1 before eventually overcoming three break points to serve out the match.

“It feels really special to be in the semi-finals,” said Sabalenka. “I’m super happy with the win.”

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