INDIAN WELLS — Elena Rybakina(KAZ) made history in the Californian desert, a glorious achievement in a place often described as ‘tennis paradise’.
On the way to winning her maiden WTA 1000 title at the BNP Paribas Open, the Yonex ambassador and Wimbledon champion became the first woman to defeat both the World No. 1 and No. 2 in the same year at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Showing that her powerful game can be just as devastating on American hard courts as on English grass courts, the Kazakhstani defeated World No.2 Aryna Sabalenka 7-6, 6-4 in the final, with the first set decided by an "epic", 13-11 tiebreak. Continuing the superb form she had shown in the semi-finals – when she had dropped just four games against Iga Swiatek(POL), the World No. 1 and defending champion – Rybakina took her first title since winning a maiden Grand Slam at Wimbledon last July.
Rybakina's fourth singles title propelled her to No. 7 in the WTA Rankings, a career high for the 23-year-old. No wonder was "super happy" with her fortnight in the desert. "It feels amazing. It's been an incredible two weeks for me," Rybakina said.
Beating Sabalenka was another significant first for Rybakina. She had lost four previous matches with the Belarusian, including the final of this year's Australian Open. Winning the tiebreak, including saving set points, was key in California.
“It’s always a pleasure to play against Aryna, and it’s always a tough battle," said Rybakina. "We both had chances [in the first set], but in the end, it went my way. 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 trying to fight until the end."
Defeating the highest ranked players is becoming a habit for Rybakina. She has now won her last four matches against opponents ranked in the top two as she beat Ons Jabeur, who was then the World No. 2, in the Wimbledon final and also stopped Swiatek in the fourth round of this season's Australian Open. With her success in Indian Wells, Rybakina continues to push herself closer to her goal of becoming the World No. 1 herself.
Road to title
Round of 64: def. Sofia Kenin 7-6, 7-6
Round of 32: def. Paula Badosa 6-3,7-5
Round of 16: def. Varvara Gracheva 6-3, 6-0
Quarterfinals: def. Karolina Muchova 7-6, 2-6, 6-4
Semifinals: def. Iga Swiatek 6-2, 6-2
Finals: def. Aryna Sabalenka 7-6, 6-4
Photo by AFLO