Aryna Sabalenka
Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka will play China's Qinwen Zheng in the Australian Open women's singles final on Saturday in Melbourne. Eloisa Lopez/Reuters

Defending champion and second seed, Aryna Sabalenka, defeated fourth seed, Coco Gauff, 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 in the semi-final of the Australian Open women's singles on Thursday.

The contest was a rematch of last year's US Open final, which saw Gauff come from a set down to beat Sabalenka and win her first Grand Slam. Sabalenka's victory at last year's Australian Open remains her one Grand Slam win to date.

Sabalenka came into Thursday's match in Melbourne in very impressive form, as all her matches so far at the tournament were won in straight sets, whilst Gauff dropped her first set of this year's competition in her tight quarter-final win over Marta Kostyuk.

The early stages of the semi-final saw Sabalenka break Gauff at the first opportunity to lead 2-0 but Gauff broke back the very next game. From there, the rest of the opening set contained mistakes from both players as there were multiple breaks.

At one stage, Gauff was 5-2 down, but the American managed to win four successive games to go 6-5 in front and she had the opportunity to serve for the first set. However, Gauff was unable to take her chance as Sabalenka climbed from 30-0 down to break the 19-year-old and force a first-set tiebreaker.

Sabalenka dominated the tie-break as she sprinted out to a 4-0 lead before eventually winning it 7-2.

The two players were much more protective of their serve in the second set but Sabalenka appeared more in control, with Gauff having to hold off a break from the Belarusian in both the first and seventh game.

Eventually, Sabalenka found the breakthrough she was searching for in the second set as she broke Gauff in the ninth game to go up 5-4. The defending champion then served out to win the deciding set 6-4 and secure her place at a second successive Australian Open final.

The Belarusian's two-set win means she continues her brilliant record of not dropping a single set in the tournament.

After her victory, Sabalenka gave her thoughts on the contest with Gauff. The world number two said: "It was incredible match. 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."

For Gauff, this is her best performance at the Australian Open after not being past the fourth round before. The teenager reflected on her semi-final loss, saying: "I didn't feel like I played bad. I just felt there were certain points that I just didn't win. So, it's tough with the result, but I'm trying to look at the positives."

Sabalenka now moves on to Saturday's final, where she will face China's Qinwen Zheng. The twelfth seed secured her spot in the final after overcoming unseeded Ukrainian, Dayana Yastremska, in straight sets in Thursday's other semi-final.

The Ukrainian's progress has been one of the stories of the tournament as she had to go through the qualifying stages to make it to the main draw.

Yastremska began the game on the front foot as she broke Zheng to go 2-0 up in the opening set. The Chinese star responded by instantly breaking back and then managed to land another break in the seventh game to lead 4-3, with Yastremska struggling on the court due to an abdominal issue.

Zheng eventually served to win the opening set 6-4. In the second set, the number 12 seed landed a break in the third game but Yastremska was able to break back immediately after.

However, just like in the first set, Zheng broke her opponent in the seventh game to put herself firmly in the driving seat. Zheng then managed to hold her serve twice more to win the deciding set 6-4 and advance to the final.

The 21-year-old expressed her emotions after getting through to her first-ever Grand Slam final, stating: "It feels unbelievable. I'm super excited to have such a great performance and arrive in the final."

Zheng will head into Saturday's final with Sabalenka as the clear underdog, but she will take some encouragement from the struggles that the current champion had in the first set of her semi-final match.