Having Aryna Sabalenka, the defending champion, in the final wasn’t a surprise at all. Yes, she had one of the most comfortable draws in the opening week, but the world No. 2 fended off a promising 22-year-old Amanda Anisimova in the fourth round, former Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova in the quarters and avenged her US Open final loss against Coco Gauff in the semifinal, without breaking a sweat. To top it off, she is yet to lose a set in the 2024 Australian Open. But you probably had her against world No. 1 Iga Swiatek or last year’s runner-up Elena Rybakina, the only player to have defeated Sabalenka this year, in the final. Yet, rising through the chaos in the top half of the women’s singles draw emerged No. 12 seed Qinwen Zheng, hoping to emulate the legendary Li Na’s decade-old feat and carry on the Chinese legacy. As the two gear up for the big clash on the iconic Rod Laver Arena on Friday evening, we take a look at their journey at Melbourne Park over the last fortnight, their past battles, and draw up the tactics board to predict the winner…
How did Sabalenka and Zheng reach the 2024 Australian Open final?
Sabalenka has been clinical over her last four weeks in Australia, having gone 10-1 since the start of this year. Six of those wins came at the Australian Open, where she spent less than seven hours on the court, having notched up straight-set wins in each of those matches. She beat qualifiers Ella Seidel and Brenda Fruhvirtova, 28th seed Lesia Tsurenko, Anisimova, No.9 Krejcikova and Gauff. Such has been Sabalenka’s dominance than, before her 7-6(2), 6-4 win against Gauff, no other opponent managed to win more than three games in a set.
If the 25-time tour-level titlist maintains the streak in the final, Sabalenka will become fifth player in history to win the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup without dropping a set, after Ash Barty in 2022, Serena Williams in 2017, Maria Sharapova in 2008 and Lindsay Davenport in 2000.
Zheng, who spent 11 hours and 34 minutes on court to make her first Grand Slam final, battled against a rare field of unseeded players in Ashlyn Krueger, Katie Boulter, Wang Yafan, Oceane Dodin, Anna Kalinskaya and Dayana Yastremska, despite being part of the top draw which was anchored by Swiatek, Rybakina and No. 5 seed Jessica Pegula. En route, she lost three sets.
What milestones are at stake for Sabalenka and Zheng in the 2024 Australian Open final?
Sabalenka on Saturday will be aiming to become the second player to successfully defend the Australian Open women’s title after Victoria Azarenka, who won in 2012 and 2013.
Zheng, on the other hand, will be hoping to win her third WTA title and first at a major. If she beats Sabalenka in the final, the 21-year-old will become the second Slam winner from China after Li Na, who won in 2014.
Have Sabalenka and Zheng faced each other previously on the WTA tour?
The two faced off each other only once before, at the US Open 2023 quarterfinal, where Sabalenka won 6-1, 6-4 against Zheng, en route to the final. Sabalenka did not face a single break point in that match.
“I’m sure the final will be really competitive, because I think Sabalenka, she’s one of the most big hitters right now in the tour,” Zheng said. “She’s got the most big serve, most big forehand, big backhand, she’s [a] really complete player.”
How dealing with the second serve will play a crucial role in Sabalenka vs Zheng Australian Open final?
While the two have been inseparable on first-serve points won numbers, Sabalenka has been top-notch behind her second serve at the Australian Open, winning 55 per cent of those points, significantly higher that Zheng’s 45 per cent. So the Chinese star needs to bring some genuine heat against Sabalenka’s second-serve and halt the Russian’s march with her heavy forehand.
Zheng’s core strength has been her first-serve – 48 aces and 79 per cent win behind it are both the leading numbers in the tournament so far. However, she has managed to get more first-serves in, with the number hovering between 44 and 56 per cent. While that hasn’t been much of a factor in her run to the final, Zheng’s key to pulling off a shocker against Sabalenka will be down to getting more first-serves in given the world No. 2 affinity to feast on her opponent’s second serves. She has claimed 66 per cent of her second-serve return points (Zheng has won 57 per cent).
Who will win Sabalenka vs Zheng Australian Open final?
The defending champion has looked more at home in Melbourne over the last two weeks than Zheng, who only made it past the quarterfinals for the first time at a Grand Slam event. Experience will definitely come in handy for Sabalenka, but major finals have always been more of a mental test.
Winner: Sabalenka in straight sets.
#Sabalenka #Zheng #Australian #Open #final #Prediction #H2H #tactics #board #Tennis #News