Exclusive interview with Elena Rybakina: The main goal is to be No 1

Elena Rybakina is one of the rising stars of the WTA Tour, having already won two titles and tasted life in the world’s top 20. In an exclusive interview with Tennis Majors, the Kazakh explains why she feels she can be the world No 1.

Elena Rybakina on the WTA Tour, 2020 Elena Rybakina on the WTA Tour, 2020

After six months without playing, Elena Rybakina was a little rusty against Ekaterina Alexandrova in the first round of the Cincinnati tournament. She lost in two sets (7-5, 7-6). But nothing to worry about for the 21-year-old. “I lacked rhythm,” she said in a press conference after the match. The Kazakh, ranked 17th in the world, is happy to finally be able to play tennis again in a very safe environment. She answered questions from Tennis Majors.

Are you afraid that the lockdown breaks your confidence with six months without playing?

To be honest it doesn’t really matter how I started the year, because it’s been sixth months. I just have to be focused. I’m just really happy to play matches again. I’m ready I think, and I feel confident. So it’s fine.

Elena Rybakina, Dubaï 2020

How was the lockdown for you?

It was tough, because I was at home in Moscow with my family and the restrictions were very hard there. I couldn’t get out of the apartment for two and a half months — only with a special permit. I didn’t hold a racquet for two and a half months. I was just trying to do fitness as much as I could. I was following my diet. I was on the phone with my coach; we were watching some (of my old) matches together. It was a tough time, but also I enjoyed spending time with my family.

How was the sensation with the racquet the first time you played again, and now?

Actually the first day after two and a half months, I started to practice and I expected a worse feeling, but it was not that bad to be honest. It was actually fine. We started slowly in Kazakhstan, but we could not practice there fully because of the lockdown — it was quarantine for a second wave (of the virus). So we moved from there to Bratislava and there I started full preparation — five weeks of fitness and tennis every day.

What is your goal for the US Open?

Of course the goal is always the same: to win every tournament! But no one has played for six months, so I don’t know. I will just try to do my best and we will see how it goes.

How is the bubble in New York City? Do you feel safe?

Yes, they are doing a good job to keep everybody safe. They have a lot of places where we can rest, because there are no fans. We are doing tests every four days, so hopefully everyone is negative on the tests. It’s really good, the bubble.

In the bubble in New York City, do you feel 100 percent safe so you can focus just on your game and on the tournament?

Of course you always have to be careful. I’m just trying to stay in the room without many people around. Actually everyone is trying to do the same. Now, as I said we have so much space, so everyone can stay with their small team.

So you go to practice and then you have to go back to the hotel?

Yes, practically it’s like this. Because you cannot go to the city, of course. It’s just the courts and hotels.

Your start of the 2020 season was great; how do you explain this start to the year?

I didn’t expect to start the year like this. But I had really good preparation. Actually for the first time in the pre-season I had five or six weeks. Because before I didn’t have preparation like this – maybe only two or three weeks. Also I played many matches in 2019. I didn’t expect it, but it was great how I started the year.

How do you explain your progression from 2019 to now?

I actually learned a lot in 2019. I started to work with my coach, Stefano (Vukov). I learned a lot from him and am still learning now, of course. It was a great experience for me. I was playing a lot of WTA tournaments and physically I became much better. I think it’s mostly because of my coach. He is full time with me now and he is the first coach who has traveled with me full time like this. He is teaching me on the court and off the court. I think we are improving a bit of everything. I played a lot of matches in 2019, but we also improved a little bit my technique with my serve and forehand. And I’m still learning. It’s a bit of everything.


Did he change something specific or just your overall game?

I was improving everything. But my game is aggressive, to come to the net. We are just working on it and improving every day.

Do you feel more pressure with your top 20 status now?

No. To be honest I don’t feel pressure. I still have to improve so many things. I don’t really feel like a top 20 player. The goal is to be No 1, so there are still many things to improve.

What in your game do you want to improve?

Everything. Physically improve, mentally improve, focus…. Many things. And you can improve even if you are No 1. It’s a lot.

What is your schedule after the US Open?

After the US Open we are going to play Rome, then Strasburg I think, and Roland-Garros.

How do see the end of the season with Covid-19? Do you think the rest of the tournaments will be played?

To be honest I don’t know what’s going to happen. For now everything looks good in the bubble. So hopefully we play these tournaments and later on, also. But I don’t know what to expect, because in different cities there are different situations. So I don’t know what’s going to happen, but you always have to be ready.

What are your goals for the short term for your career? This year. And then long term?

This year the goal is to try to finish the year in the top 10. It’s difficult with the new points and ranking system. But it’s possible. We will see. Of course the main goal is to be No 1 and win Grand Slams.

Which grand slam is your favourite?

I like the Australian Open.

In Grand Slams, is it different than other tournaments in terms of preparation? Or are all tournaments the same for you?

No, it’s actually always the same for me. I want to win as much as I can. But everything feels weird because the calendar is completely different. Now we are playing the US Open and later we play Roland-Garros. It really doesn’t matter now. After such a long break, I just to want to play some matches and tournaments.

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