Your five-point guide
Zheng Qinwen during her semifinal against Dayana Yastremska
Defending champion Aryna Sabalenka and Zheng Qinwen will battle under the lights at Rod Laver Arena on Saturday night with one goal: earning the Australian Open 2024 women’s singles crown, Gill Tan reports for Ausopen.
QINWEN ZHENG  VS ARYNA SABALENKA 
1. How they got here
No.2 seed Sabalenka has been clinical this fortnight. She has spent less than seven hours on the court through her first six matches and accounted for 28th seed Lesia Tsurenko, ninth seed and 2021 Roland-Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova, and fourth seed Coco Gauff.
The powerful right-hander has a shot at becoming the fifth player since 2000 to lift the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup without dropping a set, behind Ash Barty in 2022, Serena Williams in 2017, Maria Sharapova in 2008, and Lindsay Davenport in 2000.
Zheng, who has spent 11 hours and 34 minutes on court, took an unusual road to reach her maiden Grand Slam final.
The 21-year-old is only the second player in the Open era to reach a women’s singles final at the Australian Open by facing only unseeded opponents since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario did so in 1995. Zheng is only the third to do so at any major, after Sanchez Vicario at Wimbledon in 1996 and Martina Hingis at Wimbledon in 1997.
2. What it means
Hunting her second major title, Sabalenka is the first women’s player to reach back-to-back singles finals since Ons Jabeur at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2022.
She has already cemented her position at the top of the sport as a regular title contender, having reached the semifinals at Roland-Garros and Wimbledon last year before ending the 2023 Grand Slam season as a finalist at the US Open.
She is the first player to reach consecutive AO title matches since Serena Williams in 2016 and 2017, and only the second player since 2000 to reach three consecutive hard court major finals after Victoria Azarenka reached the 2012 US Open final in between her AO final earlier that year and again in 2013.
For Zheng, a maiden Grand Slam is within reach. If she can upset Sabalenka, the 12th seed will become only the second Chinese player to win a major after Li Na, who won the Roland-Garros in 2011 and the Australian Open in 2014.
3. What to expect
Both players will go for it on serve. Perhaps surprisingly, Zheng boasts a tournament-leading 48 aces, double Sabalenka’s 24, but also sits atop the leaderboard for most double faults, with 35.
Sabalenka will come into the match with one mantra: Be aggressive. During AO 2024, the second seed won one in every six points with a forehand winner and will aim to overwhelm her rival by crushing groundstrokes deep into both corners, and she won’t hesitate to approach the net as needed.
Sabalenka warms up before her semifinal against Coco Gauff
After defeating Gauff, Sabalenka said she was pleased with how she executed her game plan. She admitted that she had retreated into a passive mindset and got drawn into long rallies during her three-set US Open final loss to the American.
“The whole preseason, I was working on those approach shots, on coming to the net and finishing the point [at] the net,” she explained.
Sabalenka leads 1-0, having triumphed 6-1 6-4 during their US Open quarterfinal encounter in September without facing a break. She is partially familiar with Zheng’s game because they’ve practiced together, including before AO 2024.
“I’m sure the final will be competitive because I think Sabalenka, she’s one of the most big hitters right now in the tour,” Zheng said. “She’s got the biggest serve, biggest forehand, and biggest backhand; she’s [a] complete player.”
5. Who wins and why
Sabalenka has been at ease at Melbourne Park and seems unperturbed by the pressure of being the defending champion. Her experience may prove an advantage against Zheng, who hasn’t passed the last eight at a major.
“When you play [your] first final, you get emotional and [rush] things sometimes, [but] when you’re third time in the finals, you’re like, okay, it’s a final, it’s okay,” Sabalenka explained. “It’s just another match, and you can separate yourself from that thing. Just focus on your game.”
If her mental game remains as solid as it has been through the fortnight, then the title is the talented 25-year-old’s to lose.
Winner: Sabalenka in two