Jan 27, 2023

2023 Australian Open WTA Finals

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Elena Rybakina VS Aryna Sabalenka :

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Elena Rybakina is into her second Grand Slam final. She’s dropped only one set to get here, and it was to Danielle Collins, who’s nearly impossible to get past without getting your serve broken once or twice. Her serving is probably the best I’ve seen on the tour since Osaka’s USO wins. Her cross-court forehand is freezing people in their spot, and her technique is looking better than ever. The backhand still can spray some errors, but she’s hitting winners more often with it which is balancing out the more aggressive approach. Having gone through Collins, Swiatek, and peak-Azarenka, it is safe to say that Rybakina is ready for this match. She’s played a real difficult set of players, and she’s looked inevitable to win in all of those matches.

Aryna Sabalenka has finally gotten rid of the semifinal curse. Not a bad curse to have, but for her, getting into the finals is a win. A Grand Slam final is something that solidifies ones career as top tier. Sabalenka is going to be one of the greats of women’s tennis, but these big titles are things that are needed to get into that Swiatek/Osaka/Williams tier of conversation. Attention won’t really be Sabalenka’s goal, but there is also a sigh of relief in qualifying your career so to speak. The expectations that junior phenoms carry can be heavy, so it may free Sabalenka’s game up a bit. She’s already looked more comfortable on the court this year, with her offense coming from every direction and the ball staying in the court at a really solid clip. Her double fault issue seems gone, and the conditions seem to suit her. Compared to Rybakina’s draw, Sabalenka has had some gifts. Rogers, Mertens, Bencic, Vekic, and Linette are excellent players, but none of them are really late-round contenders for majors generally, and Sabalenka entered all but the Bencic match as a heavy favorite.

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Sabalenka has opened as a slight favorite here (-140), and there are a handful of reasons behind that. She’s ranked 20 spots higher than Rybakina, and she hasn’t dropped a set in this tournament. She also leads the H2H 3-1. All of their meetings have been 3-setters, but Sabalenka has tended to win the decided by at last a break. This troubles me a bit because the ability to turn it up and put the work in to get the result usually indicates a tier of play that the opponent just can’t hang at. We’ve seen Rybakina rushed into errors on her opponents good offensive offerings, and Sabalenka is probably a slightly better defender than her. Neither player is really equipped to deal with the others offense, and that’s probably the reason they exchange lopsided sets so often. In terms of movement, Sabalenka is a bit quicker, but neither one is going to hit the lateral sprints required to track down the pace they both hit with. Really hard to say who’s going to win here, but Rybakina did win the most recent 3-setter in 2022 and she’s playing a good sight better than she was in 2021 when Sabalenka dominated the matchup. Sabalenka’s offense is unplayable when it’s on, but she had a handful of breaks against Vekic that Vekic didn’t have to do a lot to earn. Rybakina has been making her opponents earn it and has been pretty careful taking care of breaks she earns. Rybakina’s forehand and serve have been really efficient, and that prior experience of seeing the ball go through the hoop can help a lot in a finals where the crowd is likely to start fairly impartial but cheer for whoever puts on a better show. She’s also a bit more willing to come to net than Sabalenka which can help a lot in big matches. I’ve seen play from Elena this week that make me think she could continue to improve, and her serve improving could give her a chance to win a lot of major titles. Leaning slightly into the upset, but Sabalenka’s level is so high that this feels like it’ll come down to who plays the big points better. Rybakina in 3.