Australian Open

Australian Open Women's Final Tips: Defending champion to win again

Sabalenka champion
Hold it close: Sabalenka looks likely to take home a second major title

Tennis tipster Gavin Mair runs the rule over Saturday's women's final, and is struggling to see past the defending champion...

  • Sabalenka in top form

  • Qinwen Zheng breakthrough

  • Good match-up for Belarusian

The women's final is set. Reigning champion Aryna Sabalenka has earned the chance to defend her title, battling her way past nerves and Coco Gauff in the semis.

She is set to face the emerging Qinwen Zheng, who has had a breakout tournament. Unfortunately for the Chinese player I don't think she'll be taking the trophy back home.

Top form

Sabalenka is in great form. Pre-tournament I was concerned that she would crumble at some stage, and may even prone to upset in an earlier round due to the enormity of defending her crown.

The Belarusian has a track record of succumbing to pressure but to her immense credit she has confronted every hurdle put before her with ease.

Her hardest challenge was against Coco Gauff in the semi-final, a repeat of the US Open 2023 final. The outcome was reversed as Sabalenka emerged the winner of a tense tussle. If she were to crack that was the moment.

It wasn't the greatest nor cleanest performance by Sabalenka - she had to break serve in set one to get into a tiebreak but she won the pivotal battles and in what I consider the equivalent to football's xG - break point supremacy - she was a clear 0.55 break points created per game ahead of Gauff.

Before the Gauff match, Sabalenka was crunching the ball and demolished opponents for the loss of no more than three games each set. A repeat performance here will see her cruise to glory.

The best is yet to come for Qinwen

I didn't mention Qinwen Zheng in my pre-tournament preview. That is not because I don't recognise her talent, I am a strong believer that she is capable of challenging consistently for Grand Slams. I just didn't think she was ready yet.

Even though she has made this final my opinion hasn't changed. Qinwen clearly has to work on important facets of her game, especially the serve which she launches like a catapult that either causes maximum damage or misfires knocking down her chances.

If she fixes that she will become formidable. She is already a top end player according to ELO rankings. However, there was some distance between her and the four players ranked above her - Iga Swiatek, Elena Rybakina, Gauff and of course Sabalenka.

She has benefitted from her draw opening up, and whilst you can only beat the players before you it is hugely fortunate that the highest ranked opponent she has had to beat during her run is 56th ranked Brit Katie Boulter back in round two. Swiatek and my pre-tournament pick Rybakina must be kicking themselves.

Rybakina had an off night in tricky conditions losing an epic tie-break to Anna Blinkova. Had she survived that I am quite confident she would be the player competing in this match. But that's sport.

The match-up

This does look a very tricky assignment for Qinwen Zheng. In their only career meeting Sabalenka slaughtered Zheng. She didn't face one break point and throughout the whole match the Belarusian played within herself.

Sabalenka is prone to swinging for the fences, but against Qinwen it was tidy and controlled. She played within herself winning 6/1 6/4.

That match took place in the US Open last year and it is difficult to believe that since that time Qinwen has elevated her game substantially to trouble Sabalenka. Serve is her greatest asset but her first ball stats remain chaotic and that counts strongly against her.

I am fairly confident that Sabalenka wins this with room to spare and suggest backing a clean straight sets victory at 8/151.53

Back Aryna Sabalenka to win 2-0 @ 8/151.53

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This pick is proving popular shortening from 4/71.57 on Thursday.

Qinwen has an excellent record of beating the players she should beat - now 21 wins to three losses since the start of last season on hard court. However, against the big four she is 0/4, and truth be told she's barely got close. That is why Betfair price boffins have set the game handicap on Sabalenka at -5.5

In matches against those four players she has lost by a margin of seven, nine, seven and seven. Sabalenka to clear that handicap is priced at 11/102.11 and that is tempting. It also happens frequently in Australian Open finals, -5.5 has been cleared seven times since 2000.

Back Aryna Sabalenka -5.5 games at 11/102.11

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