Rybakina’s coach, Stefano Vukov, is an unabashed admirer. “She listens, listens a lot. That’s very rare, I think,” he said.
“She’s involved 100 per cent into the sport, into what she does. Very calm, stoic, I would say, if that’s the right word?
“But a sweetheart, definitely, really, really, with amazing family, amazing parents. No one puts really pressure on her. So, I mean, super easy to deal with.”
Sabalenka, riding a 10-match winning streak and yet to drop a set while in Australia, won’t entertain thoughts about winning in Melbourne as a “neutral”, a reality for her at all the slams after tennis officialdom took steps after the conflict started to not recognise Russia or Belarus in any official way.
She doesn’t shirk the question, it’s just that dealing in hypotheticals doesn’t work for her.
“Let’s talk about that … if I going to win it,” said the ever-cheerful Sabalenka, who beat Poland’s Magda Linette 7-6 (7-1), 6-2 in their semi-final.
And another comment, delivered with a smile: “If, if, if, I don’t like to speak about ‘if’. I just want to work for it, yeah, do my best. If I win, you can ask that question and I will answer.”
But missing Wimbledon cut a nerve for her, and others. It was a time of genuine frustration and annoyance.
“Oh, no, I didn’t watch Wimbledon last year. I was feeling really bad about that, and I didn’t watch Wimbledon at all,” said Sabalenka.
She admits to a brief peek at the TV, however, to see her opponent’s breakthough moment against Ons Jabeur in the final.
“I mean [I saw a] little bit the final just because I was working out in the gym,” Sabalenka admitted. “It was great tennis.”
That it was – and the moment when Rybakina was elevated from not just a promising type but a star of the game.
Sabalenka’s story in Melbourne has been about successfully pulling the pieces together in her high-octane game.
A former world No.2 whose serving woes often hit the headlines, she’s on the tennis equivalent of a “heater” at the roulette table. Everything she’s touching is turning to gold.
Sabalenka is no longer using a pyschologist, a decision she’s supremely comfortable with.
“I spoke to my psychologist saying, like, ‘listen, I feel like I have to deal with that by myself’, because every time hoping that someone will fix my problem, it’s not fixing my problem,” she said.
“I just have to take this responsibility and I just have to deal with that. Yeah, I’m not working with psychologist.″
Typically, the next comment came with a warm laugh – a trait that’s central to her demeanour. “I’m my [own] psychologist.”
Pressed further, Sabalenka reflected on her capacity to stay level. “I talk a lot with my team. Also with my family,” she said. “I think I know myself quite well. I know how to handle my emotions.”
While Sabalenka’s serve is undoubtedly on song, Rybakina has plenty in that department, too, easily identifying her most potent weapon. “Yeah, for sure it’s my serve,” she said.
The stats don’t lie either. Rybakina boasts the fastest serve speed in the women’s field for the tournament at 195km/h and the highest number of aces for all women (45), ahead of the next best, Karolina Pliskova (31).
Sabalenka is third (29 aces) and, importantly, has restricted her double-fault count to just 22 for the tournament. She is, indeed, a new player.
Rybakina has won a total of 420 points, featuring 158 winners, most on the forehand side (56).
In contrast, Sabalenka is going bigger, nailing down 196 winners from a total of 414 points won. That’s good going.
The ingredients have come together for a women’s decider that will go the distance and, regardless of colour, creed or flag, a moment for either Sabalenka or Rybakina to shine brightly.