Brisbane: No. 1 seed Aryna Sabalenka sets up semifinal against two-time Slam champion

Sabalenka's fine form in Brisbane continues as the top-seeded has been safely through to the semifinal.

by Dzevad Mesic
Brisbane: No. 1 seed Aryna Sabalenka sets up semifinal against two-time Slam champion
© Getty Images Sport - Chris Hyde

No. 1 seed Aryna Sabalenka and second-seeded Elena Rybakina have been through to the Brisbane International semifinal. 

Sabalenka, ranked at No. 2 in the world, continued her strong Brisbane form on Friday by beating former world No. 8 Daria Kasatkina 6-1 6-4. In the past, Kasatkina beat Sabalenka twice on hard courts. But in Brisbane, the winner was never in doubt as Sabalenka routinely beat Kasatkina to improve the head-to-head against the Russian to 6-2. 

On the other side, world No. 4 Rybakina progressed to the Brisbane semifinal via an Anastasia Potapova retirement. Rybakina got off to a very strong start against Potapova, winning the first set with a 6-1 scoreline. After the first set was over, Potapova walked toward Rybakina and shook the Kazakh's hand. 

How Sabalenka beat Kasatkina?

Sabalenka got off to a good start against Kasatkina, earning the first break of the match in the second game for a 2-0 lead. Down by an early break, Kasatkina responded by breaking back Sabalenka in the third game. However, blowing an early break didn't impact Sabalenka, who broke Kasatkina again in the fourth game to open a 3-1 lead. In the sixth game, Sabalenka broke Kasatkina for the third time in the set before serving out for the first set in the following game.

Aryna Sabalenka
Aryna Sabalenka© Getty Images Sport - Chris Hyde

After losing her service three times in the first set, Kasatkina was able to hold on to her opening two service games of the second set without facing a break point. But then, Sabalenka earned her first break of the second set in the fifth game and realized it to go 3-2 up. Down by a set and a break, Kasatkina had a chance to return the break in the sixth game but missed out on her three break points as Sabalenka managed to hold to her serve for a 4-2 lead. Four games later, Sabalenka successfully served out for a two-set win over Kasatkina after converting her second match point.

Rybakina made a strong start before Potapova retired

The first three games of the match were relatively calm as not a single break point was seen. Then, Rybakina saved Potapova's two game points in the fourth game - earned her first break point - which she realized for a 3-1 lead. In the fifth game, No. 11 seed Potapova had a chance to instantly get the break back but she didn't convert any of her three consecutive break points as Rybakina confirmed her break and opened a 4-1 lead.

At the changeover after the fifth game, Potapova received a medical timeout. When the match resumed, Rybakina broke Potapova for the second time to take a 5-1 lead before serving out for the first set in the following game. After Rybakina sealed the first set, Potapova said that was it. 

Anastasia Potapova
Anastasia Potapova© Getty Images Sport - Bradley Kanaris

Rybakina, who was playing against Potapova for the second time, wished the Russian a quick recovery and highlighted that it wasn't the way she wanted to win the match. Previously, Rybakina lost to Potapova at an ITF event in 2018.

"I wish Anastasia a speedy recovery, because she had a really tough battle yesterday [against Kudermetova]. I'm just happy I get to play another match, but definitely not the way I wanted to win," Rybakina said after the match ended with a Potapova retirement.

Elena Rybakina
Elena Rybakina© Getty Images Sport - Bradley Kanaris

Sabalenka plays next against two-time Slam champ Victoria Azarenka

In the Brisbane semifinal, Sabalenka will be taking on fellow Belarusian and former world No. 1 Azarenka, who defeated Jelena Ostapenko 6-3 3-6 7-5 on Friday. When Sabalenka, 25, and 34-year-old Azarenka meet in Brisbane, it will be their fifth meeting. Going into the match, Sabalenka owns a 3-1 head-to-head against Azarenka. 

However, it should be noted that Sabalenka and Azarenka haven't played against each other in a long time. In the summer of 2021, Sabalenka clinched a two-set win over Azarenka in Montreal and they haven't met since. Going into their Brisbane match, Sabalenka is undoubtedly the favorite to end on the winning side for the fourth time in their meetings.

Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka
Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka© Getty Images Sport - Minas Panagiotakis

Rybakina faces next rising star Linda Noskova

On Friday, Noskova, 19, beat 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva 7-5 6-3 to set up a quarterfinal against Rybakina. Although world No. 40 Noskova is three years older and ranked a bit better than 58th-ranked Andreeva, many had 16-year-old Andreeva as the favorite and expected to see a Rybakina and Andreeva semifinal in Brisbane. But Noskova had other plans and she made sure she would be the one facing Rybakina.

On Saturday, Noskova will be meeting Rybakina on the court for the second time. Their first meeting came during last year's French Open, when Rybakina routinely defeated the Czech 6-3 6-3. Noskova may have routinely lost to Rybakina several months ago but she remains optimistic that she can do better in their second meeting in Brisbane. 

“At the French Open I didn’t really find myself or my game. I think it’s going to be a whole different match tomorrow. We’ll see what we can bring to the court," Noskova said of facing Rybakina.

How Noskova set up a Rybakina meeting? 

After losing her service in the very first game of the match, Noskova broke back Andreeva instantly in the second game. Noskova then went up by a break in the sixth game but Andreeva instantly broke back in the seventh game. Noskova again broke Andreeva in the eighth game but failed to serve out for the first set in the following game. Luckily for Noskova, she was able to keep her focus as she broke Andreeva again in the 11th game for a 6-5 lead before successfully serving out for the opener in the 12th game. 

Down by a set, Andreeva started the second set by breaking Andreeva in the first game. However, Andreeva's lead was short-lived as Noskova broke back the Russian in the second game. After getting an early break back, Noskova also broke Andreeva in the sixth game for a 4-2 lead. Up by a set and a break, Noskova held on to her serve for the remainder of the set to seal a two-set win.

“She’s obviously a little younger than me. I knew we probably will see each other in the future. I wanted to start on the right leg. She’s definitely really talented. She has a good serve and good movement. A good future for her for sure," Noskova said of beating Andreeva.

Aryna Sabalenka