Why Elena Rybakina’s Indian Wells win could be a breakthrough moment

Elena Rybakina

Elena Rybakina is emerging as the biggest threat to Iga Swiatek at the top of the women’s game after she sealed a stunning win in the BNP Paribas Masters in Indian Wells.

Wimbledon champion Rybakina gained revenge for her Australian Open final defeat in January as she sunk world number two Aryna Sabalenka to win her first Masters 1000 event.

The Kazakh player held her nerve to clinch a 78-minute first set before wrapping up a 7-6 (11) 6-4 win and her first title since her surprise Wimbledon triumph last summer.

It also helped Rybakina to erase the memory of her defeat to the Belarussian in Melbourne, having taken the first set against her big-serving opponent.

Sabalenka had stormed into the final and looked set to take control when she claimed the first break for 3-2, but her sporadic serving problems returned and a double-fault handed her opponent the break straight back.

As Sabalenka continued to struggle on serve, Rybakina, who beat world number one Iga Swiatek in the semi-finals, took control in a 17-minute tie-break and eventually secured the advantage on her sixth set point.

Rybakina built on her advantage by breaking Sabalenka to love in the first game of the second set, then broke again to move to the cusp of victory at 5-2.

Sabalenka suggested one last twist by denying Rybakina in her first opportunity to serve for the match, but the Kazakh made no mistake second time around to wrap up the second biggest win of her career.

“It was an incredible two weeks here,” said Rybakina. “It’s always a pleasure to play against Aryna, and it’s always a tough battle.

“Hopefully I will come back next year and repeat this result.

“I just want to have the consistency, the most important thing is to stay healthy because it’s still the beginning of the year.

“If I continue like this I have all the chance to be higher in the top 10, we’ll see how it’s going to go.”

There was also some fun between the finalists, as Rybakina suggested she was happy to get her first win over her Belarusian rival before Sabalenka stepped up, grabbed the microphone and said: “I will make sure it was the last one.”

Sabalenka’s serving problems returned as she threw in double faults at crucial moments and she admits it was a concerning turn of events.

“I would say that I was super disappointed with my serve, so I was back to old habits,” she said.

“I was like a little bit overreacting on things, and I wasn’t there in the first two games in the second set.

“I think it’s gonna stay in my head until tomorrow, and tomorrow we are flying to Miami and I will forget this one.

“The thing that is helping me to stay focused and to keep winning is just to focus on myself and focus on the game and focus on things what I have to do on court to keep winning.

“This one was tough, especially in the finals, it’s always tough to lose.

“You’re one step to the trophy and you lose it. This one is really tough. But she’s a great player.”

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