Elena Rybakina, Aryna Sabalenka reach Australian Open final
What all seemed so different, so daunting, even, about trying to win a Grand Slam title to Elena Rybakina a little more than six months ago is now coming rather naturally.If she can win one more match, she will add a championship at the Australian Open to the one she collected at Wimbledon.
Rybakina, 23, who represents Kazakhstan, reached her second final in a span of three major tournaments by beating Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (4), 6-3 at Melbourne Park on Thursday, signaling a rapid rise toward the top.
“Everything was new at Wimbledon,” Rybakina said after hitting nine aces in the semifinals to raise her tournament-leading total to 44. “Now I more or less understand what to expect.”
That could come in handy Saturday, when she will face No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. Sabalenka, 24, reached her first Grand Slam title match by beating unseeded Magda Linette 7-6 (1), 6-2 in Thursday’s second semifinal.
Sabalenka improved to 10-0 in 2023 and has won all 20 sets she has contested this season.More importantly, the victory over Linette gave Sabalenka her first taste of success in a Slam semifinal after going 0-3 at that stage until now, losing each previous attempt 6-4 in the third set.
Rybakina and Sabalenka employ a somewhat similar brand of tennis, relying on big serves and big hitting at the baseline. Sabalenka is far less cautious, though, and her penchant for high-risk, high-reward play was evident against Linette, who had never before been past the third round in 29 appearances at majors.
Sabalenka finished with a whopping 33-9 edge in winners but also compiled more unforced errors than Linette.
The key to both semifinals, really, was a first-set tiebreaker. Azarenka lost the mark on her strokes, making things smoother for Rybakina, while Sabalenka raced to a 6-0 lead in hers. It wasn’t the case that each and every shot Sabalenka hit landed right on a line, but it must have seemed that way to Linette.
Rybakina, meanwhile, added to what already was an impressive run through a string of top opponents. Azarenka, the champion at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013, joined a list of players eliminated by Rybakina over the past two weeks that includes No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 17 Jelena Ostapenko — both owners of major titles — and 2022 Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins.
“For sure, they’re very experienced players,” said Rybakina, whose parents and sister have been in town throughout the Australian Open. “I knew that I have to focus on every point.”
As usual, Rybakina did it with her powerful serve, delivering it at up to 117 mph, and stinging groundstrokes that she used to close points seemingly at will. The performance was particularly noteworthy against a returner and defender as established on hard courts as Azarenka, a former No. 1 and a three-time runner-up at the US Open.
“Kind of hard to digest,” Azarenka said. “Obviously, I had quite a few chances that I gave myself.”
Rybakina might be seeded 22nd in Melbourne, and ranked 25th, but those numbers are not indicative of her talent and form. Rybakina did not get the usual bump from her title in July at Wimbledon, where zero rankings points were awarded after the All England Club banned players from Russia and Belarus because of the invasion of Ukraine.
It was breezy and chilly at Rod Laver Arena from the start of Rybakina vs. Azarenka, with the temperature dipping below 70 degrees. That could have played a role in the way the first set was as much of a seesaw as can be, with each player seeming to gain the upper hand and ceding it just as quickly.
“I couldn’t play really aggressive tennis,” Rybakina said. “The ball wasn’t going so much.”
Rybakina’s occasional inconsistency was encapsulated by the first game. She began, inauspiciously, with a double fault before holding with the help of three aces.
Azarenka nosed ahead by breaking for a 3-2 lead on a leaping, full-extension volley winner with both women at the net. Rybakina, though, broke right back and then once more to go up 5-3.
That allowed Rybakina to serve for the set, and she was a point from owning it at 40-30, but Azarenka conjured up a terrific down-the-line forehand passing shot to erase that chance and wound up taking the game with a big backhand winner she accented with a shout of “Let’s go!”
A mistake-filled tiebreaker ended with Azarenka pushing a forehand wide to cap an 11-shot exchange. Rybakina broke at love for a 2-1 lead in the second, and while they would continue to play for another 25 minutes, the outcome was never really much in doubt.
Sure, Rybakina again faltered while trying to serve out the victory at 5-2. No one expected Azarenka to go quietly. But one last break, aided by a double fault from Azarenka, allowed Rybakina to take another step toward another trophy.
“Ready,” she said, “to give everything I have left.”
Billie Jean King and six other members of the trailblazing “Original 9” group of Hall of Famers whose $1 contracts more than a half-century ago paved the way for the millions now offered in women’s tennis were in the stands for the semifinals.
“I want to say a big ‘thank you’ from the players, because it’s unbelievable what you’ve done for us, for the new generation,” Rybakina said. “It means a lot.”
Moose signs up as cricket’s clothing partner
by Rex Clementine
Singer had been a loyal sponsor of Sri Lankan cricket but a little heard company called Dilmah outbid Singer when the sponsorship was up for grabs in 2002. Singer boss Hemaka Amarasuriya wasn’t whinging and went on record saying that he welcomed local companies coming forward to back the sport.
Within a few years, Dilmah, an entity that was hardly known by most Sri Lankans became a global brand. That exactly is the strategy that Moose have adopted in their bid to become a global brand.
Moose a clothing company that is becoming quite popular among youth for their denims and t-shirts have been associated with cricket sponsorships in the last five years. On Thursday, they announced a four year deal with SLC to be clothing sponsor of the national cricket teams – both men and women.
Moose CEO Hasib Omar is a soft spoken young man who reminds you of the great Aravinda de Silva. But like in Ara’s case, beneath the soft exterior lies a sharp brain.
MAS had been the clothing sponsor of SLC for the last 16 years and Moose has outbid them signing a four year deal that will take them through all bilateral series, ICC events and Asian Cricket Council tournaments. The partnership brings together two of the nation’s main strengths – cricket and apparel industry.
Dimuth’s return to ODIs, a welcome move
by Rex Clementine
After more than two years of stubborn resistance, the selectors have been forced to bite the bullet and admit that their strategies have been faulty and the top order of the ODI outfit needs stability. Hence the return of Test captain Dimuth Karunaratne for white ball cricket for the upcoming three match series against Afghanistan and he should retain his place for the World Cup qualifiers later next month in Zimbabwe too.
One of the troubles with the 50 over side is that the batting department has been found wanting not able to bat out the 50 overs. Dimuth provides the stability opening the innings with his ability to bat through the 50 overs. Other stroke makers can bat around him.
In 2021 April, Dimuth Karunaratne posted his career best Test score of 244 against Bangladesh. A month later, Sri Lanka’s white ball team was touring Bangladesh and Dimuth was sacked from the captaincy as the leadership of the white ball teams was handed to Kusal Perera. It was a left field choice. That was an experiment that didn’t last long.
Not only was Dimuth removed from the captaincy he lost his place in the side as well. It didn’t dawn to the selectors that the batters will be encountering the same bowlers and in Karunaratne they had a man who was in good touch, having smashed a double hundred against the Bangladeshis. The result was catastrophic. Sri Lanka lost the series and in both games they lost, the batting had collapsed.
It is these senseless moves that has resulted in Sri Lanka being forced to play the qualifying round of the World Cup. By the time the selectors wisened up, the horse had bolted. The recalling of Dimuth is an admission by the selectors that they had got their act wrong in axing him.
It will be early winter in Zimbabwe in June and with day games teams will encounter some dew in the morning and need to adjust accordingly. On paper, Sri Lanka should go through, but they are a team that has got everything to lose having won the World Cup once and featured in two other finals. For smaller nations, this is a massive opportunity and if they win, there’s nothing like that but if they lose, they can always try next time. Not for Sri Lanka though, who have featured in every World Cup since the tournament was launched in 1975.
Complacency is the only thing that Sri Lanka need to guard themselves against. A mindset that this is not a tough challenge could see them losing the plot as we have seen it happening to many teams time and again.
In Chris Silverwood the team has someone who knows what to expect in Zimbabwe as he started his coaching stint there having overseen Mashonaland (Harare). The Head Coach will be tapping into the brains of his contacts in Zimbabwe as to what his team can expect when they travel for the qualifiers.
Russian doubles player cleared of match-fixing two years after Roland Garros arrest
Russian doubles player Yana Sizikova has been cleared of match-fixing two years after her arrest at the French Open, according to her lawyer.The 28-year-old was arrested at Roland Garros in 2021 as part of an investigation into match-fixing allegations dating back to the 2020 edition of the Grand Slam.
Sizikova, ranked 50th in doubles, has continued to play on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tour since her arrest and will compete at this year’s French Open, which starts today.
“After two and a half years of investigation, the Paris Public Prosecutor’s Office definitively closed the case on 11 April 2023, considering that criminal proceedings could not be initiated, as the facts of which Sizikova was accused could not be established,” her lawyer Frederic Belot told Reuters.
Officials began investigating in October 2020 after suspicions of “organised fraud” and “corruption in sports”.
A source close to the investigation told the BBC at the time the inquiry focused on a first-round match in which Sizikova and American partner Madison Brengle lost 7-6 (10-8) 6-4 to Romanian pair Andreea Mitu and Patricia Maria Tig.
Suspicions were reportedly raised after betting companies noticed hundreds of thousands of euros had been wagered on a break of serve in the second set.Sizikova was released a day after her arrest in 2021.In July 2022 she and fellow Russian Anastasia Potapova won the Prague Open, while Sizikova reached two other finals last year.
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