Tennis: Rybakina sets sights on top ranking after Indian Wells triumph

Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan with the winner's trophy during the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. PHOTO: AFP

INDIAN WELLS – Elena Rybakina is targeting the world No. 1 ranking, after the Wimbledon champion defeated Aryna Sabalenka on Sunday to capture the Indian Wells crown for her first title of the season.

Rybakina, who was born in Moscow but now represents Kazakhstan, missed out on 2,000 ranking points last year after Wimbledon was penalised for banning Russian and Belarusian players in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.

Her 7-6, (13-11), 6-4 victory over the second-ranked Sabalenka in a reversal of the Australian Open final lifted her to a career-high No. 7 and the 23-year-old said she was determined to push on.

“I think the biggest goal is of course to be No. 1,” Rybakina said. “There’s still long way to go. So this is the end goal, I’d say.

“For now, I’m seven, but you know how quickly the rankings change.

“So I need to always focus on the next tournament I play. I’m just trying not to think so much about the rankings.”

Rybakina’s victory over Sabalenka followed her impressive win over Iga Swiatek. It was the first time a player had beaten the women’s world No. 1 and No. 2 in the semis and final at a tournament since Garbine Muguruza in Cincinnati six years ago.

“I didn’t think about this, but good stat,” said Rybakina, who picked up her fourth career title.

“I don’t know what to say. When I come to play against anyone, I try not to think about the rankings.

“I just want to do my best. Yeah, in the end, try to win.”

Meanwhile, Sabalenka said she had slipped back into “old habits” with her serve during the defeat but vowed to learn from her mistakes and come back stronger.

Sabalenka struggled with her serve over the last few years before a stint with a biomechanics trainer turned her weakness into a weapon, which she used to great effect en route to her first Grand Slam title in January.

But in a rematch of that title clash, the Belarusian struggled with accuracy again as all 10 of her double faults came in the opening set of the Indian Wells final.

“There will be some days when old habits come back and you just have to work through it. Not every match will be going your way and you’ll be serving perfectly,” Sabalenka said.

“So it’s a reminder that it’s okay to still struggle with something. It’s okay to not play your best and keep fighting and keep using the rest of the weapons.

“I was super disappointed with my serve. I was over-reacting and wasn’t there in the first two games in the second set.”

Sabalenka’s defeat was only her second in 19 matches this year and she said she would need time to overcome it. REUTERS

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