There is no stopping Aryna Sabalenka at the moment. The Belarusian world No 10 won the final two tournaments of last year's shortened season and has started 2021 right where she left off.
Sabalenka, 22, now has the chance to make it three titles in a row, and will be the overwhelming favourite to do so, when she contests the Abu Dhabi WTA Women's Tennis Open final on Wednesday.
To book her place in the final at the Zayed Sports City International Tennis Centre, the fourth seed needed to overcome a potentially tricky encounter against Maria Sakkari, whose own fine form at the tournament included wins over top seed Sofia Kenin and two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza.
But the Greek ninth seed was no match for the power and precision of Sabalenka, who produced a thoroughly dominant performance to win their semi-final 6-3, 6-2 in just over an hour.
It was Sabalenka's 14th win in a row, further extending the longest streak of her career. The Belarusian only has another 60 wins to go to equal Martina Navratilova's all-time record.
When jokingly asked if she thinks she can challenge the record, Sabalenka burst out laughing. “This is an unbelievable number," she said. "Of course, I would like to go this far, and I will do everything I can to keep winning, so we’ll see!”
For now, though, it's all about staying in the present and taking each match, and each challenge, as it comes.
"I think I'm putting my focus on to the right things," Sabalenka said. "This helps me to, first of all, not think about all the wins, and secondly, to keep winning. I need to keep focusing on my game ... and try to keep everything in the moment. It seems to be working really well for me."
It certainly is working and Sakkari was the latest player to feel the full force of the Sabalenka juggernaut.
"She played lights out tennis," the 25-year-old Greek said. "She gave me zero chances to come back, I just couldn’t find a way from the baseline. She was dictating and playing really big and strong, so I have to give it to her."
Such irrepressible form has naturally hyped-up Sabalenka's chances of winning her first Grand Slam title next month. For all she's already achieved at the age of 22 – including a top-10 ranking and eight WTA titles, and possibly a ninth – a breakthrough at the majors has yet to emerge, a fourth round at the 2018 US Open her best showing so far. Not that Sabalenka is getting too carried away, at least not publicly.
"I don’t have any expectations; I’m just focusing on my game and not thinking about winning the Australian Open," said Sabalenka, who will move up to a career-high No 7 in the rankings with victory in the final. "I just need to put my focus in the right places."
Next in line to have a crack at ending Sabalenka's winning run is Veronika Kudermetova. The Russian reached her first WTA final by defeating Ukrainian teenager Marta Kostyuk 7-6, 6-4 in the second semi-final.
While the first semi-final was a blow out – or as Sakkari put it: "I got destroyed today" – the second was a much closer and tighter contest, but Kudermetova managed to get over the line on her fifth match point.
The world No 46 was the favourite against an inexperienced, albeit talented, player ranked 53 places below her, but she will resume underdog duties in Wednesday's final. However, she held similar status in the quarter-finals against second seed Elina Svitolina and that worked out rather well for her.
"I don’t have any expectations for the final because Aryna is a top-10 player and she’s playing unbelievable," Kudermetova, 23, said. "I think she has a little bit more pressure because she is expected to win. Tomorrow, I can play free and relaxed and try to enjoy the final."