Qinwen Zheng to face Aryna Sabalenka in Aussie final

Defending champion Aryna Sabalenka and first-time Grand Slam finalist Qinwen Zheng will meet in Saturday’s final at the Australian Open in Melbourne.

Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed from Belarus, eliminated No. 4 Coco Gauff 7-6 (2), 6-4, and No. 12 seed Zheng of China defeated Ukrainian qualifier Dayana Yastremska 6-4, 6-4 in Thursday’s semifinals.

Sabalenka, 25, avenged her three-set loss to Gauff in the 2023 U.S. Open final.

“I think in New York I played a little bit passive tennis,” Sabalenka said. “I didn’t put so much pressure her. I mean, I did in the first set, but then I kind of slowed down and started just trying to play rallies with her, which is not working well.

“The whole preseason I was working on those approach shots, on coming to the net and finish the point on the net. I’m super happy that I was able to do that on court today, and I think that’s the difference between these two matches.”

There were six service breaks in the first set of the one-hour, 42-minute match, including one by Sabalenka to force the first-set tiebreak. Gauff dropped the first four points in the tiebreak and couldn’t recover.

The only break of the second set came with Gauff serving at 4-4. Sabalenka closed it out on her second match point and finished with 33 winners and 28 unforced errors. Gauff had 22 winners and 20 unforced errors with eight costly double faults, and she landed just 57 percent of her first serves compared to 76 percent for Sabalenka.

“I wish I could have made more first serves,” Gauff said. “I think that was the difference. She had a higher first-serve percentage, and it’s tough to also go for the second when you double-faulted a couple times.

“But that wasn’t the fault, either. Because I put myself in the position, I cleaned up the first set, put myself in the position to serve out the set. At the end of the day, it came down to a couple of points.”

Zheng broke Yastremska’s service twice in each set. Yastremska took a medical timeout midway through the first set but remained in the match. Yastremska was up 3-2 in the second set before losing 12 of the next 13 points.

Zheng, 21, is the first Chinese woman to make a major final since Li Na won her second Grand Slam title a decade ago at the 2014 Australian Open.

“I believe in the destiny,” Zheng said. “When everything is working well, I believe in the destiny. But if the destiny doesn’t go on my side, I don’t believe that at all. Only depends where destiny goes.”

Sabalenka defeated Zheng 6-1, 6-4 in the 2023 U.S. Open quarterfinals in their only previous meeting.