Rybakina slays Sabs at Indian Wells

AFTER going down to her in the 2023 Australian Open final, rising Kazakhstan talent Elena Rybakina was ecstatic she could topple the most recent Grand Slam winner, Aryna Sabalenka in the 2023 BNP Paribas Open final. The second seeded Belarusian was running hot, but Rybakina – coming off her second straight sets win over world number one Iga Swiatek – was performing strongly herself. In a match that was neck-and-neck throughout the two power players went at it, and in the end Rybakina emerged victorious, 7-6 6-4.

The first set tiebreaker went down to the wire as the duo continued to fight to grab the all-important opening set advantage. In the end, it went a whopping 118 points, with Rybakina’s 60-58 advantage ultimately being the difference in the end as she won 13-11 in an epic opening set. Both players broke once, and while Sabalenka served 10 double faults in the set for two aces – while Rybakina had six aces and one double fault – it was the Belarusian’s ability to otherwise capitalise.

Sabalenka won 73 per cent of her first serve points compared to the reigning Wimbledon champion’s 58 per cent, but that soon changed in the second set. Rybakina lifted her first serve percentage to 79, albeit off a horrible 49 per cent clip. She was broken just the one though as she scrambled hard off her second serve to win 60 per cent of points. It was her work off the second seed’s serve that was the difference, winning 47 per cent of points compared to 40, and in a set that went just 62 points, broke twice to run out a 6-4 winner without needing a third and deciding set.

“Feels amazing,” Rybakina said post-match. “It’s been tough but really good two weeks for me here.”

Coming into the match, Sabalenka held a 4-0 head-to-head record against Rybakina, whose victory marked her first title of the season, and inaugural WTA1000 career title.

“We both had chances [in the first set], but in the end, it went my way,” Rybakina said. “So I think it was important this first set, and then it was a bit easier to start the second with an early break.

“This tiebreak was really epic, I would say, with all these double faults and nerves. So in the end, it was just focusing on every point and try to fight till the end.”

The victory saw Rybakina move up three spots into seventh in the world, surpassing her previous career-high of 10th. Sabalenka remains in the world number two spot, but has increased her breathing space from third ranked Jessica Pegula.

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