MELBOURNE — Magda Linette had never made it past the third round of a grand slam before this year’s Australian Open, and now she is mounting a charge that could end in yet another shock winner of a major title in women’s tennis.
No one would have been surprised had you told them a Polish woman had made the second week, but they would have been surprised when you told them it was Linette and not Iga Swiatek.
But the world No 1 was beaten by Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the fourth round after a disjointed performance from last year’s French and US Open winner.
Swiatek’s early exit, along with defeats for Ons Jabeur, Coco Gauff and Caroline Garcia, have decapitated the women’s draw to leave it wide open for anyone to lay claim to the first grand slam of the year.
- Elena Rybakina (22) vs Victoria Azarenka (24)
- Magda Linette/Karolina Pliskova (30) vs Aryna Sabalenka (5)/Donna Vekic
- Wednesday 25 January, midnight GMT: Linette vs Pliskova
- Wednesday 25 January, not before 2am GMT: Sabalenka vs Vekic
- Rybakina vs Sabalenka
Rybakina vs Azarenka
With three grand slam titles between them, this should be billed as a blockbuster semi-final but both players have actually come in under the radar, seeded and ranked outside the top 20.
Since winning Wimbledon last summer, Rybakina has struggled for consistency and in fact, given the tournament at SW19 did not earn her any ranking points, she has dropped two places in the standings since becoming a grand slam champion. Even in 2023 before coming to Melbourne, she won one match in Adelaide and then lost to Marta Kostyuk and Petra Kvitova.
However, the state of Victoria has treated her much better than South Australia, dropping just one set (to No 13 seed Danielle Collins) en route to the last four of the Australian Open for the first time.
“I had tough period before Wimbledon in the sense I was very tired mentally,” Rybakina said.
“I played a lot of tournaments, so I was not at my best and I took a break. So it was kind of not really expected win at Wimbledon.
“But here it’s different because, first of all, I already did it once, and of course I got confident that I can do it again. I did really good preparation with the team. I’m not really surprised with the results.”
Azarenka meanwhile has very much been there, done that in the Rod Laver Arena. The Belarusian has never lost a semi-final match here, beating Kim Clijsters in 2012 and Sloane Stephens in 2013 before, on both occasions, lifting the trophy on Saturday.
Her own run to the semis this time has been a little more laboured, dropping sets to Madison Keys and then Zhu Lin in late-night match in the fourth round that finished well after midnight.
“It will be a great match-up,” Azarenka said of facing Rybakina.
“She’s an incredible player. She won Wimbledon last year. I think maybe she had a little bit of up and downs, but she’s a very good, solid player. Her ranking obviously doesn’t tell the full story.”