Tennis: Champion Aryna Sabalenka overcomes Coco Gauff to book Australian Open final against Chinese Zheng Qinwen

Aryna Sabalenka has continued her confident march towards a second successive Australian Open crown with a 7-6(2) 6-4 victory over Coco Gauff in a blockbuster semi-final to set up a title-decider against Chinese 12th seed Zheng Qinwen.

Zheng ended qualifier Dayana Yastremska's remarkable run 6-4 6-4 in the day's second semi, but will be long odds to land her first Grand Slam title against the second seed and match compatriot Li Na's triumph a decade ago.

Sabalenka again looked in almost irresistible form, as she avenged her loss to Gauff in last year's US Open final in a high-quality contest to reach the championship match without losing a set for the second year in a row.

Aryna Sabalenka & Zheng Qinwen.
Aryna Sabalenka & Zheng Qinwen. Photo credit: Getty Images

The American teenager, also looking to land her second Grand Slam title, is one of the most athletic players in women's tennis and tore around Rod Laver Arena to stay in the contest, until the Belarusian's power finally overwhelmed her.

"It was an incredible match," said Sabalenka. "She's a great player, always tough battles against her.

"I think the key was that I was able to stay focused no matter what. No matter what the score was, I just keep trying my best, keep fighting for it.

"It's one more to go and I'll do my best."

The two reigning hardcourt Grand Slam champions made contrasting starts, as Belarusian Sabalenka fired an ace and revved up her forehand to hold, before pouncing on two double faults by Gauff to break.

Gauff, 19, hit back right away and the pair swapped breaks again, but the New York champion continued to teeter on her serve, allowing Sabalenka to settle her nerves, after going 6-5 down in a frantic spell to clinch the first set in a tiebreak.

The pair were locked together until 4-4 in the second set, as Sabalenka, 25, countered Gauff's speed with power and the second seed edged ahead with a decisive break, when the teenager hit a shot long, before sealing victory with two massive serves.

"I think it just came down to a couple of points and that's tennis," said Gauff, playing her last Grand Slam as a teenager. "I'm going to dwell on it tonight, but... the sun is going to rise tomorrow.

"Tomorrow, I don't know, I'm going to try to go to the movies or something, be proud of myself."

Brilliant shotmaking

While the opening semi-final was between the world N0.2 and No.4, the second pitched Zheng, the only seed left in the top half of the draw, against 93rd-ranked qualifier Yastremska.

The match was just as tight, with Yastremska - the first women's qualifier to reach the last four at Melbourne Park since 1978 - belying her lowly ranking with some brilliant shotmaking, particularly off her rocket of a backhand.

Zheng, 21, was named most improved player on the WTA tour and showed why, maintaining a consistently high level with her serve and groundstrokes, as her opponent's waxed and waned, particularly after she pulled up clutching her abdomen.

She was still troubled by Yastremska's returns into the second set and the Ukrainian put huge pressure on Zheng's serve, before the Chinese managed to break for 4-3 and held to stand on the brink of victory.

Yastremska held her final service game and got to 30-30, as her opponent served for the match, but Zheng summoned up two thumping service winners, before holding aloft her arms in triumph.

Coco Gauff exits the Australian Open.
Coco Gauff exits the Australian Open. Photo credit: Getty Images

"The feeling is incredible to arrive at my first Grand Slam final," said Zheng, the first Chinese player to reach a major title clash, since Li won the 2014 trophy at Melbourne Park.

"That's my dream since I was a kid. Right now, I'm really happy, but I know there's still another fight to go.

"I'm trying to control my emotions."

Yastremska - who said she felt pain in her abdomen during the warm-up, before her injury flared up in the first set - was pleased with her run and revealed she had been flooded with messages from Ukrainians.

"I think I made them a bit happy," she said, referring to Ukraine's conflict with Russia. "These are tough moments now in Ukraine. 

"They got some nice moments to enjoy watching me play and I did my best. I tried to bring them a little bit of joy."