Brisbane: Aryna Sabalenka fired a warning ahead of her Australian Open defence by powering into the Brisbane International semi-finals on Friday with a straight-set demolition of Daria Kasatkina.
Sabalenka’s 6-1, 6-4 victory was her 14th consecutive win on Australian soil after also claiming the Adelaide crown in the lead-up to last year’s opening Grand Slam of the year.
The Belarusian raced through the first set against the Russian in 32 minutes, but had to fight harder in the second, breaking Kasatkina once and holding on to win the match in 1hr 26min.
“I had to be focused from the start because if I gave her any opportunities she was going to put me under pressure,” said the world No 2. “So I just tried to stay focused and play my best on every point.”
Sabalenka will now play fellow Belarusian Victoria Azarenka with a 2023 Australian Open final replay against second seed Elena Rybakina a possibility for Sunday’s decider.
Former Grand Slam champions Azarenka and Rybakina reached the semis in contrasting fashion.
Rallying from a set down
Two-time Australian Open winner Azarenka took 2hr 30min before finally outlasting third-seeded Latvian Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 in the first match on Pat Rafter Arena.
Rybakina was then handed a spot in the last four when her Russian opponent Anastasia Potapova withdrew with a stomach problem after losing the first set 6-1.
Azarenka was in control early as she took the first set with one break of serve, but as the match progressed Ostapenko began to find her range and deservedly levelled.
Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion, was comfortable on serve in the third set while Azarenka struggled to hold hers.
But at 5-6 and serving to send the set into a tiebreak, the Latvian cracked and a poor service game handed the Belarusian victory.
“I thought the quality of tennis was incredible,” Azarenka said. “She was blasting returns, blasting winners, so I had to stick in there.
“I was looking forward to seeing how my game was going to match up this year, and I think it’s pretty good.”
In another quarter-final, Rybakina raced to a 4-1 lead when Potapova asked for the trainer to treat what appeared to be a stomach injury.
She played the next two games but withdrew when 2022 Wimbledon champion Rybakina took the first set.
Noskova beats Andreeva
Rybakina will face Linda Noskova next after the Czech player saw off 16-year-old Russian Mirra Andreeva 7-5, 6-3.
In the men’s draw, top seed Holger Rune looked in great touch as the Dane downed Australian qualifier James Duckworth 6-2, 7-6 (8/6).
The world No 8 will play Roman Safiullin in the semi-finals after the unseeded Russian beat Italy’s Matteo Arnaldi 7-6 (7/4), 6-2. Bulgarian second seed Grigor Dimitrov beat Australian Rinky Hijikata 6-1, 6-4.