‘Hopefully I’ll win the final’ – still only one set dropped for Rybakina, chasing second Slam and rankings rise

The 23-year-old is into her second Grand Slam semi-final and has no hint of false modesty about her.

Elena Rybakina Tennis – Australian Open – Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia – January 26, 2023 Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina reacts during her semi final match against Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka (AI/Reuters/Panoramic)

The youngest woman left in the Australian Open draw beat the oldest to power into a Grand Slam final.

Elena Rybakina picked up her second straight-sets win against 33-year-old Victoria Azarenka on Thursday, dismissing her 7-6 (4), 6-3 to reach the final of the Australian Open.

Anyone who watched her placid, pragmatic progress to the 2022 Wimbledon title would not be surprised to have heard her very practical answers in her post-match interview. Having thanked her team and the crowd, she declared herself “super-happy and proud”, and added: “Today it was a bit tougher for me, it was different conditions, I couldn’t play aggressive tennis, the ball was not going so much, but I’m happy I managed to win. I’ll try my best in the final, of course.”

Prompted about what she learnt from her maiden Slam final last year, she reflected: “I got a lot of experience from Wimbledon. I want to come forward, enjoy the moment, enjoy the atmosphere…We’ll see how it’s going to go but I’ll try my best, fight and hopefully I’m going to win.”

Such an explicit statement of intent drew amused gasps from the crowd, but Rybakina is in impressive form. She has dropped only one set so far this fortnight, and Azarenka was the third former major champion in a row she had defeated – after Iga Swiatek and Jelena Ostapenko.

Rybakina and Azarenka were the only two Slam champions remaining in the draw – neither Aryna Sabalenka or Magda Linette, contesting the other semi-final, have won a major – and they also had a similar record in the tournament this year, with each of them dropping only 36 games en route to the semi-finals. However, Azarenka went to three sets twice, and had a tiebreak opening set in the first round against Sofia Kenin – meaning she had been on court for almost nine hours before stepping on court against Rybakina. The Kazakh, meanwhile, had played less than seven and a quarter hours.

If she lifts the title on Saturday, she will not just pick up her second Grand Slam trophy; she will also rise to the heady heights of world No 8. There is plenty on the line. She will also be very aware that had she picked up any points for her Wimbledon triumph, she would be on the verge of stepping up to world No 2, sitting just below Swiatek, who has dominated the women’s game over the last 12 months.

Indeed, Rybakina bemoaned that lack of points at the US Open, as her seeding was bumped down and it meant she was shunted out to less prestigious courts with fewer fans watching her.

Fascinatingly, on Thursday, Rybakina was also given the chance to pay tribute to the Original Nine, which she did in sincere and endearing fashion. With seven of those nine trailblazers looking on – and after Judy Dalton had said in a press conference on Wednesday that the current crop of stars “haven’t a clue” about what they did – . she admitted it was “special and nervous” to play in front of them.

She added: “I want to say a big thank you from the players. It’s unbelievable what you’ve done for us, for the new generation, it means a lot.”

People in this post

Your comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *