Australian Open finalist refused to watch Wimbledon and faces champion
Wimbledon: Elena Rybakina speaks after winning Women’s final
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Aryna Sabalenka will have been wise to research Elena Rybakina’s play ahead of their clash in the final of the 2023 Australian Open on Saturday. However, last year’s Wimbledon decider may not form part of her investigation after the Grand Slam singles final debutant admitted she didn’t watch Rybakina’s title win in London.
The Belarusian was banned from attending Wimbledon due to her country’s involvement as allies to Russia in its war against Ukraine. However, 24-year-old Sabalenka wasn’t completely immune to SW19’s allure and confessed she was impressed by the little she witnessed.
“Oh, no, I didn’t watch Wimbledon last year,” confessed Sabalenka after advancing to the final of this year’s Australian Open. “I was feeling really bad about [the ban], and I didn’t watch Wimbledon at all. I mean, [a] little bit [of] the final just because I was working out in the gym. I saw a little bit. It was great tennis.”
Rybakina, 23, came from a set down to beat Ons Jabeur in her maiden major final, announcing herself as a force to be reckoned with on the Grand Slam stage. The youngster was born in the Russian capital of Moscow but changed allegiances to Kazakhstan in 2018 in order to receive greater financial support.
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Both she and Sabalenka stand at around six feet tall and deploy a broad set of balanced attributes across the court, gaining attention for their power play in particular. Asked whether she can see merit in the claim that the pair have similar styles of play, Sabalenka highlighted one key difference between her and her upcoming foe.
“I don’t know. Maybe you tell me what you think [laughter]. Probably,” added the Belarusian. “I think it’s just different. Like she [plays] a little bit, like, flat, I maybe spin a little bit more.
“I think that’s the difference. Well, it’s not going to make things easier. It’s a final. It’s not going to be [an] easy match, you know? But I’m just happy that I made this, like, next step. I know that I have to work for that title.”
Sabalenka has plenty of reason to feel confident ahead of her maiden major final, having won each of the previous three encounters against Rybakina. Each of those meetings took three sets to decide, however, and there’s cause to believe Rybakina has improved significantly since they last met at Wimbledon 2021.
Anton Dubrov, Sabalenka’s coach, agreed the balance has shifted in a big way since they last faced off. In that respect, Saturday’s showdown could be the start of a ‘new’ rivalry between the pair at this level.
“Aryna lost (her) serve. Then she found the serve,” remarked Dubrov. “Meanwhile, Rybakina won a Slam. They both kind of came here from different directions. So I would say. . .all previous matches don’t matter at all. It’s going to be something really new.”
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