Elena Rybakina finally gets one back in rivarly with Aryna Sabalenka

Elena Rybakina
Elena Rybakina serves

Elena Rybakina claimed her first win in five attempts against Aryna Sabalenka at Indian Wells on Sunday.

Rybakina had lost all four of their previous meetings, including their Australian Open final showdown earlier this season.

The win gives the Kazakhstan No 1 a fourth career title and sees her jump up to world No 7 on the rankings.

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

Rybakina clearly took the lessons from her four previous losses to Sabalenka as she identified the need to be ironclad on her serve.

She claimed a first set tiebreaker which wound up being a crucial moment in the match and arguably in this budding rivalry.

“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.”

Rybakina eliminated Swiatek in straight sets in the semifinals, demonstrating her great form and she then  became the first player to beat both the world No 1 and world No 2 at Indian Wells in the same year when she defeated Sabalenka.

On Sunday, Rybakina was stronger behind her second service, as she won 52 percent of points behind her alternate delivery . In this championship match, Sabalenka only prevailed in one-third of her second-serve points.

Sabalenka now has a record of 17-2 for the year after suffering just her second loss of the term. Sabalenka had hoped to become the first player to win three championships in 2023 by adding Indian Wells to championships in Adelaide and Melbourne.

Instead, Belinda Bencic, the champion of the Adelaide International 2 and Abu Dhabi, and Sabalenka remain tied for the most titles won this year. In addition, Sabalenka’s defeat on Sunday was her first in five WTA 1000 finals overall.

After a successful lob, Sabalenka won the opening break for 3-2, but she double-faulted to give the break back and the match was squared at 4-4. At 6-5, Sabalenka committed another double fault, giving Rybakina a set point. However, Rybakina misfired on that opportunity, and the first set went into a tiebreak.

Rybakina failed to cash in on four more set points during the tough 17-minute tiebreak in which the two players seemed they would trade blows until kingdom come.

Sabalenka used strong forehands to earn two set points of her own in that tiebreaker, but she too erred on those opportunities.

At 12-11, after Sabalenka’s tenth double fault, Rybakina had her sixth set point, and the defending Wimbledon winner converted it after a long forehand from Sabalenka. Rybakina is currently 6-0 this season in tiebreaks.

After she accelerated to a 5-2 lead in the second set, Rybakina maintained her advantage.  Sabalenka brought the score back to 5-4 after rattling off eight straight points, but Rybakina produced another unreturned serve on her first championship point to seal the victory.

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