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Saturday July 13, 2024

Rybakina beats Sabalenka to win Indian Wells WTA title

By AFP
March 21, 2023

INDIAN WELLS: Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina edged Aryna Sabalenka 7-6 (13/11), 6-4 on Sunday to win the Indian Wells WTA title and avenge her loss to the Belarusian in the Australian Open final.

Kazakhstan’s Rybakina, the world number 10 who ousted top-ranked defending champion Iga Swiatek in the semi-finals, followed up with her first victory over second-ranked Sabalenka in five career meetings.

Rybakina, projected to rise to seventh in the world, handed Sabalenka just her second defeat of the year, denying her a third title to go with a win in Adelaide that presaged her first Grand Slam triumph at Melbourne.

“It’s actually the first time it goes my way,” Rybakina said as she accepted the trophy, a smiling Sabalenka leaning to the microphone to interject, “I will make sure it was the last one.” “We’ll see next time," Rybakina laughed.

The banter belied another tense battle between the two, who had gone to three sets in all four prior encounters. Sabalenka had the edge from the baseline, but, in the face of fierce pressure from Rybakina, the serve demons that beset the Belarusian last year resurfaced and her 10 double faults in the opening frame ultimately proved too much to overcome.

After fending off three break points in a marathon fourth game, she broke Rybakina to gain the first advantage. But Sabalenka handed back the break with a double fault as Rybakina leveled the set at 4-4.

She gifted Rybakina a set point with another double fault in the 12th game and while the Kazakhstan player couldn’t capitalize, she would do so finally in the tiebreaker. Sabalenka herself let two set points go begging on her own serve in the 17-minute tiebreaker before her 10th double fault of the set gave Rybakina her sixth set point and she took it.

Sabalenka, struggling to quell her emotions, was broken to love to open the second set and that was all the opening Rybakina needed. “It was a rollercoaster,” Rybakina said. “With all these double faults, I think we were both so tight, because we both knew that it’s not easy with our serves to hold it but also to try to break.