INDIAN WELLS, United States - Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina will be out to turn the tables on Aryna Sabalenka on Sunday when they clash for the Indian Wells title in a rematch of the Australian Open final won by the Belarusian.
Reigning Wimbledon champion Rybakina has lost all four career meetings against Sabalenka – but all four have gone the distance with Sabalenka closing strong in a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory in Melbourne to seize her first Grand Slam title.
Rybakina, ranked 10th in the world, knows precisely the challenge she’s facing – and what she needs to do to meet it.
“I lost the last four times and it was always three sets,” she said.
“I think just to play better in these important moments and hold the serve, because I think few times it was just because of one break.
“It’s not going to be an easy match and it’s going to be in these clutch moments I just need to play better.”
As in Melbourne, Rybakina is through to the final after an upset victory over world number one Iga Swiatek.
Swiatek, whose eight 2022 titles included the French and US Opens, 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 break opportunities.
“I played on my highest level,” Rybakina said.
“There are moments where you can feel, OK, I can beat anyone if I always play like this.”
However, she’ll be facing a supremely confident opponent in Sabalenka, who has banished the demons of 2022 and gone from strength to strength.
Sabalenka, who opened her year with a title in Adelaide, is 17-1 this season, her lone match defeat coming in the quarter-finals at Dubai.
Determined to keep her feet on the ground, the player who feels calling herself “confident” makes her sound too cocky admits she feels she’s “one of the best” players in the world at the moment.
She isn’t taking it for granted.
“I feel really good on court right now, but I also have understanding that it’s not going to be the same all the time,” Sabalenka said after her 6-2, 6-3 win over Maria Sakkari in the semi-finals.
“So that’s why I keep working hard, to make sure in those days when things are not working my way, I still will be able to compete and to get these wins.
“I just want to keep working, I just keep want to keep showing my best tennis and keep winning.”
That she has been able to show her best so often this year is a result of solving problems with her serve and learning to control her emotions on court.
“Because I was struggling a lot last year, with my serve and with so many things happening last year, I’ll say I went through hell,” Sabalenka said.
“I think that’s why I’m able to be more calm on court. I’m able to kind of control myself better and have this understanding that this is just tennis.” AFP