Aryna Sabalenka has been foot perfect in her Australian Open title defence, recording straight-set victories in all six of her encounters, and the Belarusian second seed is likely to have too many weapons for Saturday’s final opponent, Qinwen Zheng.
While Sabalenka has now reached at least the semi-final stage in her last six Grand Slam competitions and is featuring in her third final, Zheng is a Grand Slam final debutant and may be feeling the tension.
On her day, Sabalenka has the ability to blow any rival away with her power-packed style and that may be the case against 21-year-old Zheng, who is inexperienced on the WTA Tour and has enjoyed a dream passage through to the title decider.
Sabalenka is 1-6 to follow up last season’s triumph at the iconic Rod Laver Arena while Zheng is 4-1 to spring a surprise and emulate the achievements of Li Na, who was the last Chinese player to win a Grand Slam at the 2014 Australian Open.
Under 19.5 games games in Qinwen Zheng v Aryna Sabalenka @ EVS
It would only be natural for Zheng to start slowly given the magnitude of the occasion and a poor beginning against Sabalenka should be punished.
Zheng can only beat what is in front of her but she may be a fortunate finalist given she has faced just one opponent ranked inside the world’s top 75 on her journey to the final.
The Chinese 21-year-old had never gone beyond the quarter-final of a major prior to her heroics in Melbourne.
On that previous occasion, Zheng bumped into Sabalenka in the final eight of last season’s US Open and she was readily brushed aside 6-1 6-4.
That contest lasted only 17 games and a similar scenario may pan out in their rematch, especially given how dominant Sabalenka has been throughout the tournament.
The Belarusian has reached the final without dropping a set and in 10 of the 12 sets she has contested, her opponents have failed to win any more than three games.
That highlights the size of the task Zheng is faced with and, despite her easy passage through to the final, she has dropped sets in three of her six tournament wins.
Sabalenka has won 29 of her last 32 Grand Slam singles matches and she has prevailed 2-0 in 10 of her 11 encounters this season.
Only semi-final opponent Cori Gauff, who was a Grand Slam champion in her own right last season, has given the Belarusian cause for concern.
However, the second seed still triumphed 7-6 6-4, firing in 33 winners, and Zheng wouldn’t have a game that is anywhere near as complete as Gauff.
Aryna Sabalenka -6.5 games on handicap @ 7/4
Sabalenka is expected to claim this title pretty convincingly and that could mean there is value in backing her to cover a handicap of -6.5 games.
Sabalenka covered that spread when she locked horns with Zheng at last season’s US Open and she has won by at least seven games in five of her six Australian Open victories so far, only failing to do so in the semi-final against Gauff.
The 25-year-old’s hard-hitting style can often lead to unforced errors but she has been so dominant that any mistakes are being considerably outweighed by the winners she is hitting.
Zheng is a fine talent with a bright future ahead of her, but the occasion could easily get to her and there is going to be constant pressure on her to hold her serve.
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