Australian Open: Aryna Sabalenka targets all-Belarusian final with Victoria Azarenka

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Australian Open 2023
Venue: Melbourne Park Dates: 16-29 January
Coverage: Commentary every day from 07:00 GMT on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra ‘Tennis Breakfast’ live from Melbourne, with selected live text commentaries and match reports on the BBC Sport website & app

All-Belarusian final still live at Open | The Canberra Times | Canberra, ACT

Aryna Sabalenka says she “really wants” to create history by setting up an all-Belarusian contest against Victoria Azarenka in the Australian Open final.

Two-time winner Azarenka plays Kazakh Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the first semi-final on Thursday.

Fifth seed Sabalenka then faces Poland’s Magda Linette in the second.

However, two Belarusians competing for a Grand Slam title would likely lead to more discussion about a divisive political issue in sport.

Belarusian athletes are banned by a number of sporting governing bodies because of the country’s support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Sabalenka has previously said “no-one supports war”, adding she was “really disappointed” politics had interfered with sport after Russian and Belarusian players were banned from Wimbledon last year.

Speaking about the prospect of facing Azarenka in the Melbourne final, Sabalenka said: “It would be history and be unbelievable.

“I really want it to happen. I know that Vika will do everything she can to make it happen. I will do everything I can to make it happen.”

Former world number one Azarenka, who is bidding for a third Melbourne title 10 years after her last win, meets 22nd seed Rybakina at 08:30 GMT.

Sabalenka – who has lost all three of her previous Grand Slam semi-finals – is the favourite to beat Linette, an unseeded 30-year-old who had never before progressed past the third round of a major.

The political issue which won’t go away from sport

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In tennis, players from Belarus and Russia are allowed to compete but not under their national flags.

Russian player Karen Khachanov is also through to the semi-finals of the men’s singles in Melbourne.

The All England Club, which organises Wimbledon, has not yet said if it intends to maintain its ban on Russian and Belarusian players at this year’s tournament.