Damien Kayat previews the 2023 Women’s Australian Open Selected Quarter-final matches as Aryna Sabalenka takes on Donna Vekic and Karoline Pliskova faces Magda Linette.
2023 ATP Tour
Grand Slam Tennis
Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia (Outdoor Hardcourt)
Aryna Sabalenka (24/100) | Donna Vekic (29/100)
In a year of perpetual shock- in both halves of the draw- Aryna Sabalenka has emerged as one of the most assured big names in the entire tournament. She just dispatched of in-form Belinda Bencic in an accomplished all-round display.
And that performance really underlined one of the Belarusian’s most improved aspects: her serve. Serving at 4-2 ahead in the second, Bencic applied some pressure and Sabalenka found herself 0-30. She then produced three big first-serves and a monster second-serve to win four consecutive points.
When has Sabalenka’s serve ever bailed her out of trouble before? Last year she served 440 double faults on tour (151 more than anyone else on tour). But biomechanics work has helped turned her serve into a real weapon. She hasn’t dropped a set this entire year and is now on an eight-match winning streak.
If she wins here, it will be her 4th Grand Slam semi-final appearance in her last six starts. She has finally shaken her image as a Grand Slam shrinking violet and she is looking amazing this year.
26-year-old Donna Vekic is one of the many surprise packages featured at this year’s Aussie Open. But has her performance been that much of a shock? I think it’s fair to say that the Croat has probably underachieved as a professional.
She has won three WTA titles, and this will be just her 2nd Grand Slam quarterfinal (she reached the final eight at the 2019 US Open). But there is a commanding tennis player in there. Vekic would probably be the first to admit that tennis hasn’t always occupied her mind full-time.
But her performance in San Diego last year was an indication of what she has to offer. She beat four top 25 players en route to a WTA 500 appearance final. And she seems to have carried some of that form into 2023. She won all three of her matches in the United Cup and has now won seven consecutive matches.
She reached the 4th round here in 2021, getting excellent value from her strong serve and flat groundstrokes. She showed tremendous grit to come from a break down in the 3rd set against Fruhvirtova. It was the type of grit that hasn’t always been associated with the Belarusian.
Verdict: Sabalenka to win in straight sets at 64/100
Surprisingly, Vekic actually holds a commanding 5-1 head-to-head advantage over Aryna Sabalenka. Sablenka has occasionally struggled with Vekic’s flat hitting style. Vekic also loves to employ drop-shots and has caught Sabalenka flat-footed from time to time.
So, this won’t be a simple challenge for Sabalenka. But her improved serve is just irresistible at the moment. This is a different Sabalenka for Vekic to negotiate.
Karoline Pliskova (58/100) | Magda Linette (27/20)
I had a feeling that this could be a special tournament for Pliskova. The former World No.1 is coming off a pretty disastrous year and is operating completely under the radar.
I thought that could be an advantage for Pliskova. She has always been saddled with the weight of being that great player who couldn’t win a Slam. And I think that pressure weighed her down immeasurably. But she is playing with complete freedom this year.
She just breezed past Shuai Zheng to reach her 4th Aussie Open quarterfinal (she reached the semi-finals here in 2019). She is yet to drop a set this year. In fact, she has only dropped 19 games in her four matches. She struggled last year, battling after an arm fracture disrupted the early part of her season.
A semi-finalist at all four Slams, Pliskova will revel in the chaotic bloodbath that has been this year’s Aussie Open. Can she reach her 3rd Grand Slam final at this year’s Aussie Open?
Who would have thought that Magda Linette would be the sole surviving Pole at this stage of the Aussie Open? Iga Swiatek and Hubert Hurkacz have fallen by the wayside, leaving Linette to harness the hopes of the nation.
The 30-year-old actually started the year in strong fashion, accumulating a 3-1 record at the United Cup. But few could have envisaged how strong she would be this week. She has managed to negotiate a nightmarish draw. She beat Anett Kontaveit in three sets before a comfy win against 19th seed Alexandrova.
She is fresh off one of the biggest wins of her career, taking down current hardcourt queen Caroline Garcia in straight sets. Linette has always been a workmanlike baseliner who relies on strong defensive play.
But she seems to have added a more aggressive dimension to her play of late, looking to meet more balls from inside the baseline.
Verdict: Pliskova to win in three sets at 31/10
Pliskova comfortably leads the head-to-head in this rivalry 7-2. That being said, they actually split wins in 2022. Pliskova has been serving brilliantly in Melbourne, limiting her movement and conserving her energy. Linette will look to prey on Pliskova’s movement at every opportunity.
I think she may be able to actually nick a set here. But Pliskova is too adept on these courts and will find a way. I expect her to serve well and punish Linette’s relatively weak delivery.