Australian Open: Sabalenka overpowers Vekic; Linette continues dream run

Aryna Sabalenka
Aryna Sabalenka makes a return to Donna Vekic. Photo: Reuters/Jaimi Joy

Melbourne: Fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka outmuscled Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-2 in a ferocious battle of big-hitters on Wednesday to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open for the first time.

The 24-year-old, the only top-10 seed left in the draw, took her chances in a physical one-hour first set littered with break points before running away with the second.

Vekic had held a 5-1 career record against Sabalenka but was unable to match the level of the new, improved version of the Belarusian with 13 double faults not helping the Croatian's cause.

Sabalenka completed the semifinal line-up after 109 minutes on Rod laver Arena and will play Polish surprise package Magda Linette on Thursday for a place in her first Grand Slam final.

Linette reacted with disbelief after continuing her dream run with a stunning 6-3, 7-5 victory over former world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova.

Magda Linette
Magda Linette celebrates after winning her quarterfinal against Karolina Pliskova. Photo: Reuters/Carl Recine

The unheralded Pole played wonderfully controlled tennis that belied her ranking of 45th in the world to wrap up a thoroughly deserved victory in the blazing sun on Rod Laver Arena.

Linette had been expected to play second fiddle to compatriot Iga Swiatek at Melbourne Park but will now battle for a place in the final against Sabalenka.

"It's so much and I can't really believe it," the 30-year-old said. "It's really dreams come true. We keep going, though, I don't want to get too excited because we're still in the tournament, but I'm super grateful and happy."

After both players were broken in their opening service game, Linette showed the greater composure and took control of the first set as twice Grand Slam finalist Pliskova racked up 14 of the 36 unforced errors she would make over the match.

Pliskova knew she had to raise her game in the second set and ramped up the rasping forehands but Linette had the answer to everything the Czech threw at her.

She saved two break points to hold for 2-2 and then earned three of her own on Pliskova's next service game only for the Czech to battle back with a couple of big winners.

The set stayed on serve but Linette appeared to have the upper hand, winning one point with a sublime running backhand crosscourt winner, and she pounced to break for 6-5 when Pliskova offered her two chances with a double fault.

She threw her racket to the ground after serving out nervelessly for the match, clasping her head and staring wide-eyed at her box after reaching the last four for the first time in 30 Grand Slam appearances.

"I will never forget this," she added. "I'm breaking through some really difficult things for me. This will stay with me for life. So I'm really grateful."

Linette had never been past the third round at a Grand Slam before arriving at Melbourne Park this year and said a change in mentality was behind her fairytale run.

"I think through all my life I've been taking mistakes losses very personally," she explained. "So to disconnect (life) as a tennis player and a person was really difficult because I felt a lot of times that the mistakes were defining me.

"My coaches did a really great job and I'm really thankful to them because they really put up with a lot of crap."

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