Elena Rybakina chases a Wimbledon encore | Tennis News - Hindustan Times
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Elena Rybakina chases a Wimbledon encore

By, Mumbai
Jun 29, 2023 08:39 AM IST

Rybakina has risen to world No.3 through sheer consistency. Though troubled by a virus since French Open, the Kazakh player is a strong contender again

Known for showing tremendous restraint while celebrating victories on court, Elena Rybakina melted hearts after her Wimbledon triumph in 2022.

Elena Rybakina during the 2022 Wimbledon Championships(AP) PREMIUM
Elena Rybakina during the 2022 Wimbledon Championships(AP)

“You wanted to see emotions,” she said in the press conference, as a stream of tears flowed down her cheeks, after her three-set win over Ons Jabeur in the final.

It was the first Grand Slam title for the Moscow-born player from Kazakhstan. At 23, she had become the youngest since Petra Kvitova, in 2011, to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish.

Rybakina’s was a fairytale run to the Wimbledon title. In the build-up to the tournament, she suffered second-round defeats at the Rosmalen Open and Eastbourne International, and her best finish at a Major had been reaching quarter-finals at the 2021 French Open.

Ranked world No.23 at the time, she blazed through the competition, dropping just two sets en route to the title at SW19. “I’m not there yet but hopefully with this win, I can enter the top 10 and go even further,” she had said.

Twelve months on, despite not getting the 2,000 points for her triumph last year – Wimbledon was stripped of ranking points by the tennis governing bodies for barring players from Russia and Belarus citing the war on Ukraine – she heads to Wimbledon as a career-high world No.3. In this period, with consistent performances across surfaces, she has proved that her first Grand Slam title was no flash in the pan.

After a first-round loss at US Open 2022, Rybakina put together another impressive run, beating world No.1 Iga Swiatek and two-time champion Victoria Azarenka to reach the 2023 Australian Open final. She lost, despite winning the opening set, to Aryna Sabalenka but there was more hard-court success to follow.

At Indian Wells, Rybakina beat Swiatek for the second time and avenged her Australian Open defeat by getting the better of Sabalenka in the final. It was her first WTA 1000 title, and she backed that up by nearly completing the Sunshine Double before losing to Petra Kvitova in the final.

Having established herself as a force to reckon with on hard courts, Rybakina went on to claim her first WTA 1000 title on clay by winning the Italian Open and entered the top five in the rankings for the first time.

Now, there are two points worth noting as she prepares to defend her Wimbledon title. First, she’s been one of the most consistent players on tour and has achieved what she had hoped for – reaching the top 10 and beyond. But what’s perhaps more significant for Rybakina’s supporters is that, like last year, she isn’t really high on confidence heading to The Championships.

Illness caused due to a virus forced her to withdraw from the French Open after she had won two rounds without dropping a set. She then lost to world No.20 Donna Vekic in the second round of the grass-court tournament in Berlin before pulling out of the Eastbourne International because of the same illness.

Despite these setbacks, though, Rybakina will remain one of the favourites at Wimbledon if she manages to regain fitness. The fact that Swiatek and Sabalenka – the top two players in the world – haven’t found sustained success on grass will also add to her confidence. While Swiatek’s best finish at Wimbledon was a fourth-round in 2021, Sabalenka reached the semi-finals that year.

She may herself be lacking match-time, but Rybakina’s game is well-suited for grass. The 24-year-old has the power to trouble the best and is the only player on the WTA Tour to have hit over 300 aces (316) in 2023.

“I was watching Wimbledon on TV as a child, I always liked the traditions of strawberry and champagne, but I never thought I would even compete there, let alone win it,” she told Daily Mail ahead of the tournament.

“Of course, it’s a beautiful place when you get there and that gives you a lift. When I think of coming back, it is both scary and fun. I’m going to play on Centre Court at the start, but it will be good memories. Actually, it feels like yesterday.”

Rybakina is a much more complete player than she was last year. And with her serving prowess, she can be counted on to go deep at Wimbledon again.

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