Rybakina targets Sabalenka again in the Indian Wells final
Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina will turn the tables on Aryna Sabalenka on Sunday as they battle for the Indian Wells title in a repeat of the Australian Open final won by the Belarusian.
Reigning Wimbledon champion Rybakina has lost all four career meetings to Sabalenka – but all four have gone the distance, with Sabalenka finishing strong in a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win in Melbourne to claim her first Grand – Win Slam titles.
Rybakina, ranked No. 10 in the world, knows exactly what challenge she faces – and what she must do to meet it.
“I’ve lost the last four times and it’s always been in three sets,” she said. “I think just to play better in those important moments and hold serve because I think it’s only been a few times just because of a break.
“It’s not going to be an easy match and in those clutch moments I just have to play better.”
As in Melbourne, Rybakina is in the final after a surprise win over world number one, Iga Swiatek.
Swiatek, whose eight titles in 2022 included the French Open and US Open, was the defending Indian Wells champion but Rybakina beat her convincingly, winning the majority of Swiatek’s first serve points as she converted all five of her breaks.
“I played at my highest level,” Rybakina said. “There are moments when you feel like, OK, I can beat anyone if I always play like that.”
However, in Sabalenka she will face an extremely confident opponent who has banished the demons of 2022 and is only getting stronger.
Sabalenka, who opened her year with a title in Adelaide, is 17-1 this season, her only defeat in the quarter-finals in Dubai.
Determined to keep her feet on the ground, the player, who calls herself “confident” about sounding cocky, admits she feels like she’s “one of the best” players in the world at the moment.
She doesn’t take it for granted.
“I’m feeling really good on the pitch right now, but I also understand that it won’t always be the same,” said Sabalenka after her 6-2, 6-3 win over Maria Sakkari in the semifinals.
“So I keep working hard to make sure that on these days when things don’t go my way, I’ll still be able to compete and get those wins.
“I just want to keep working, I just want to keep showing my best tennis and keep winning.”
That she’s been able to show her best so many times this year is the result of solving problems with her serve and learning to control her emotions on the court.
“Because I struggled a lot last year with my serve and so many things that happened last year, I have to say I went through hell,” said Sabalenka.
“I think that’s why I can be calmer on the pitch. I can control myself better and understand that this is just tennis.”