The stage is set for Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina to meet in the final stage of the 2023 Australian Open. Both have been dominant in Melbourne with Sabalenka not losing a single set so far and Rybakina only losing one.
Sabalenka made it to the 2021 Wimbledon and US Open semifinals, then made it back to the semifinal round in New York in 2022. However, this will be her first ever Grand Slam final.
"I'm not going to do something extra. That's ok to feel a little bit nervous," she said during Thursday's press conference. "It's a big tournament, the big final. If you're going to start trying to do something about that, it's going to become bigger. I'll just leave it like that, it's ok to feel nervous about the match."
Whatever she is doing is clearly working. Sabalenka has now won 10 matches in a row, including a career-best 20 consecutive sets.
Sabalenka has won three out of the four matches in the all-time series against Rybakina, with the only meeting at a grand slam being in 2021 at the Wimbledon Round of 16. Rybakina won the most recent match, which was an exhibition in the United Arab Emirates last year.
"She's playing great tennis, serving well, so I have to be there and work for it. Put her under pressure," Sabalenka said regarding her opponent.
Rybakina, 23, has played a series of tough opponents in this tournament. She was responsible for upsetting against heavy favorite and World No.1 Iga Swiatek in the fourth round. She punched her ticket to the final by defeating two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka with a 7-6, 6-3 result in an hour and 41 minutes.
She won her first Grand Slam title last year at Wimbledon. That experience, Rybakina said, has made her feel more comfortable in her deep run in the Australian Open, but she said that in the end it all comes down to staying focused.
"Everything was new at Wimbledon. Now I more or less understand what to expect. It's nervous no matter what because it's a final," she said. "Also semis, you always nervous before the match. But this time I think I was focusing more on the match, what I have to do, and maybe not to think what's going to come or what's going to happen around."
The final will be a battle of power as Rybakina and Sabalenka have similar playing styles. Rybakina said that for the baseline it will be about trying to play deeper and trying to come forward. She also expects longer rallies than usual.
"It's going to be a tough battle. Maybe I won't have to serve that big, that fast," Rybakina said. "It doesn't really matter, the speed. It's important to have good placement on the serve because in these conditions, to serve full power is not easy, the ball is not really going."
The match is set for Saturday at 3:30 a.m. ET and will be available on ESPN.