AO2023: Over to showstoppers Sabalenka and Rybakina

 - Alex Sharp

On Saturday there will be a new name on the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup as it's time for the women's singles final at Melbourne Park.

Aryna Sabalenka Australian Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Two tumultuous weeks have built to a crescendo for quite the final. Australian Open 2023 has been a treat across the draws and the women's singles final promises to be a blistering battle between two of the cleanest ball strikers.

On one side of the net will be world No.5 Aryna Sabalenka, one step away from her maiden major. Switch to the other side and Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina will be out for a repeat from SW19 last summer.

Their previous three encounters have all been decided by going the distance, have all ended up with Sabalenka celebrating. Get comfy, clear the diary, this will be well worth tuning in for.

So much so that in the past two seasons, 2022 and 2023, only world No.1 Iga Swiatek (24) and Jessica Pegula (18) have won more women's singles Grand Slam matches than Sabalenka and Rybakina, who are locked on 16 apiece. Talk about major players. 

"It's going to be a tough battle. I think as today (versus Azarenka) maybe I will not have to serve that big, that fast, so it doesn't really matter the speed. It's important to have a good placement on the serve," stated Rybakina, out to rip and repeat, as she has all fortnight.

"The same on the baseline. Just to play more deeper and do the same thing, try to come forward, just to expect maybe longer rallies than usual."

Cast your mind back to this time last year and Sabalenka was reduced to tears Down Under, troubled by a succession of double faults in Adelaide, with serving doubts persisting over to Melbourne Park, but still making the fourth round. 

The 2023 version of the 24-year-old is all about positivity.

"There is still one more match to go. It's good that I kind of breakthrough in the semi-finals, but there is one more match to go. I just want to stay focused," maintained the world No.5, who has erased heartbreak from three previous major semi-final losses. 

"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 just happy that I made this next step. I know that I have to work for that title."

Elena Rybakina Australian Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Rybakina certainly knows what it takes.

The 23-year-old has rubber-stamped her title credentials by taking out three Grand Slam champions en route to the silverware showdown. A statement straight sets triumph over top seed Swiatek was followed by dismissing Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka to book a final ticket.

"I think it was a great challenge for me because for sure they have experience of winning Grand Slams, so it was nothing new for them," added the world No.25, taking great comfort from her Centre Court Grand Slam milestone.

"For me this time I would say it was a bit easier also compared to Wimbledon when I was playing for the first time quarters, semis, final.

"For sure they're very experienced players. I knew that I have to focus on every point. I think in the end I did really well.

"It's nervous no matter what because it's a final. Also semis, you're 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 and so on."

Whilst Rybakina has been feeding off her Wimbledon blueprint, Sabalenka has been focusing on keeping cool and calm in the midst of the Grand Slam gauntlet. 

Having lifted a lead-up title in Adelaide, Sabalenka has stormed through the field in Melbourne, taking her undefeated season start to 10 matches, claiming all 20 sets along the way.

"I was trying to less screaming after some bad points or some errors. I was just trying to hold myself, stay calm, just think about the next point," stated Sabalenka. 

"Actually, I'm not that boring, I think. I'm still screaming 'c'mon' and all that stuff. I don't think it's that boring to watch me. I hope so. Just less negative emotions."

Sabalenka revealed she's stopped working with a sports psychologist, leaning on her nearest and dearest for reassurance. 

"I talk a lot with my team. Also with my family. I think I know myself quite well. I know how to handle my emotions," added the 24-year-old. 

"I just have to take this responsibility and I just have to deal with that. I'm my psychologist!"

Both in a mentally rock-solid state, both bludgeoning the ball, this duo has excelled all fortnight at Melbourne Park. Someone is about to serve up a seventh showstopper.