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Aryna Sabalenka Sweeps Into Second Madrid Final

Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka topped Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-1, to reach her second Mutua Madrid Open final in the last three years. EPA-EFE/DEAN LEWINS

Altitude in Madrid can create confounding bounces and tactical tests.​

​In a clash of clay-court ​contenders​, ​​A​ryna Sabalenka ​deciphered challenges and delivered elevation​ soaring into her second Mutua Madrid Open final in the last three years.​

​​Sabalenka celebrates her 25th birthday tomorrow and ​brought the bash to the Magic Box roaring through the final five games in a 6-4, 6-1 dismissal of Maria Sakkari today.

The 2021 Madrid champion raised her 2023 record to a WTA-best 28-4, including an 8-1 mark on red clay.

World No. 2 Sabalenka stopped Sakkari for the sixth time in nine meetings becoming just the second No. 2 seed to reach the Madrid final and first since Maria Sharapova a decade ago.

Reigning Australian Open champion Sabalenka will play for her 13th career title on Saturday when she meets either world No. 1 Iga Swiatek or 12th-seeded Veronika Kudermetova for the championship.

The owner of four Masters championships, Sabalenka has yet to beat Swiatek on a clay court.

The top-seeded Swiatek is 5-2 lifetime vs. Sabalenka, including a 6-3, 6-4 sweep in last month’s Stuttgart final.

Sabalenka has won three of four meetings vs. Kudermetova.

Today, ​Sabalenka’s stinging drives were dancing with menace amid Madrid’s altitude. ​Sakkari wasn’t gaining too much traction in baseline rallies, Sabalenka was sharper driving the ball down the lines and the Belarusian was the bolder server. Sabalenka served 70 percent, won 50 percent of her second serve points and saved five of six break points. In contrast, Sakkari served 47 percent, hit six double faults, including three in one game, won only 10 of 31 second-serve points and dropped serve four times.​

The Australian Open champion broke in Sakkari’s opening service game then stamped a love hold for a 3-0 lead after 10 minutes of play.

Clipping the line with a forehand helped Sakkari get on the board with her first hold.

“Attack the forehand, be aggressive on the returns,” Tom Hill, Sakkari’s coach, urged his charge before the fifth game began.

Acting on the advice, Sakkari hit a series of topspin forehands crosscourt eliciting an errant forehand for double break point. When Sabalenka spit her first double fault off the tape, Sakkari had her first break to get back on serve.

Exploiting a pair of double faults from the Greek, a grunting Sabalenka followed a forehand forward and knocked off a forehand volley for break point. Sakkari hammered a heavy serve to save break point.

Standing strong during an adventurous 11-minute game that saw her clank three double faults, fend off three break points and call out a fan in the crowd for yelling before her serve, Sakkari refused to wilt holding to level after six games. That hearty hold brought coach Hill out of his seat for a standing ovation.

Dropping three games in a row, Sabalenka saved break points to stall her fall and hold for 4-3.

Pounding deep returns off second serves, Sabalenka’s conviction and consistency were essential elements for her first-set success. Firing away from the baseline, Sabalenka drew a pair of forehand errors scoring her second break to take the 52-minute opening set.

Sabalenka doubled Sakkari’s winner output—14 to 7—in the opening set.

In the second set, Sabalenka soared to levels Sakkari could not match.

Unleashing ballistic baseline strikes, Sabalenka rocked the Greek on her back heels rattling out errors for the love break and a 3-1 second-set lead.

That break empowered the second seed who was swinging freely and forcefully flowing through a love hold to consolidate for 4-1.

Even when Sakkari hit her spot on the wide serve, Sabalenka was waiting to create chaos. On the full stretch, Sabalenka shot back a snazzy forehand bolt that smacked the red clay inside the sideline for her fourth consecutive game and a 5-1 lead.