Elena Rybakina vs Victoria Azarenka predictions: Kazakhstani ace should have the edge
- Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina has won seven of her last 10 matches
- Victoria Azarenka is a two-time winner of the Australian Open
- Recommended bet: Elena Rybakina to win 2-1
The first semi-final in the women's draw at this year's Australian Open looks set to be a cracker as 22nd seed Elena Rybakina takes on 24th seed Victoria Azarenka at the Rod Laver Arena in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Rybakina made light work of Jelena Ostapenko in the quarter-finals, while Azarenka progressed following a straight-sets win of her own against Jessica Pegula.
Azarenka hoping experience will count
Ten years older than her semi-final opponent Rybakina, Azarenka most definitely has experience in her corner heading into this crunch clash.
The Belarusian 33-year-old has reached five Grand Slam finals during her career and boasts a perfect two-for-two record in the showpiece at the Australian Open — although the most recent of those Melbourne major titles was back in 2013.
She loves Melbourne Park but this was the first time Azarenka had reached the quarter-finals since becoming a mother back in 2016 and she is still working hard to become a force on the WTA Tour again.
Azarenka probably would have hoped for better preparations for the Australian Open — although she did reach the quarter-finals of the first running of the Adelaide International — and she has shown signs of vulnerability in Melbourne.
In the third and fourth rounds, Azarenka found herself battling from a set down against both Madison Keys and Zhu Lin, and that may be tough to overcome should she afford the younger Rybakina, who could have the edge in stamina, a similar position.
Tough to oppose in-form Rybakina
Azarenka's experience of these courts should count for something but Rybakina's performances at this year's Australian Open are hard to ignore.
In her straight-sets victory over Ostapenko last time out, Rybakina managed 11 aces and 24 winners, wrapping up the win in one hour and 19 minutes.
She has dropped only one set in the entire tournament — against last year's runner-up Danielle Collins in the third round — and her 6-4 6-4 win over top seed Iga Swiatek in the fourth round should not be forgotten.
That was a masterclass showing from Rybakina, who is growing on the WTA Tour and already has a Grand Slam title under her belt.
Azarenka may lead the Grand Slam title count by one but Rybakina's sole Grand Slam success came more recently at Wimbledon last year and she is the player who customers should be siding with.
Ranking points were not awarded for performances at Wimbledon last year, meaning Rybakina dropped to 25th in the WTA rankings despite becoming a Grand Slam champion.
She is a better player than her ranking suggests and her wins in Melbourne have looked largely effortless.
Collins, Swiatek and Ostapenko are all big scalps to have claimed at a Grand Slam and she should be quicker around the court than her more veteran counterpart.
That said, Azarenka demands respect on these courts and has picked up some big wins of her own against the American trio of Sofia Kenin, Keys and Pegula this year.
The former world No1's fighting spirit has been there for all to see in her progress this far and she can ensure this match at least goes the distance.