Elena Rybakina won her first title of the season and first WTA 1000 title of her career at the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday.
In an upset of this year’s Australian Open, 10th seed Rybakina defeated No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenko 7-6(11), 6-4 in the final to triumph in the first Sunshine Double event of 2023.
Rybakina won her fourth WTA singles title with the victory in the Californian desert. It is Rybakina’s first title since her Grand Slam singles breakthrough at Wimbledon last summer.
Entering the board: Sabalenka entered the match with a 4-0 record against Rybakina, but each of those matches went three sets. This time, Rybakina took the first set tiebreak and then fended off the No. 2 seed. of the world in the late second set and won her first victory over Sabalenko.
Rybakina has now won her last four matches against top-ranked opponents. She won then the 2nd no. Ons Jabeur in the 2022 Wimbledon final and has beaten world No.1 Swiatek twice this season, in the round of 16 at the Australian Open and in the semifinals of Indian Wells this week.
For only the third time this century, the finalists of the Australian Open met again in the Indian Wells final. It also happened in 2000 (Lindsay Davenport beat Martina Hingis in both finals) and 2012 (Victoria Azarenka beat Maria Sharapova both times), meaning this is the first of those opportunities for the Australian Open runner-up to avenge a final loss of Indian Wells.
Sabalenka Stopped: It was only Sabalenka’s second loss of the season, as she fell to 17-2 on the year. Sabalenka was aiming to become the first player to win three titles in 2023, adding to her Australian Open and Adelaide International 1 crowns.
Instead, Sabalenka remains tied with Belinda Benčić (Adelaide International 2 and Abu Dhabi champion) for the most titles won so far this year. Sunday was Sabalenka’s first loss in five career WTA 1000 finals.
Rybakina gets up: Rybakina already showed her great form in the semifinals by dropping Swiatek in straight sets. By defeating Sabalenka in the follow-up, Rybakina became the first player to beat the world No. 1 and No. 2 in Indian Wells in the same year.
Rybakina was stronger behind her second serve on Sunday, winning 52 percent of her points. Sabalenka won only one third of her second serve in the final.
With the title, Rybakina is projected to climb from her current career-high No. 10 position to a new career high of No. 7 in Monday’s updated singles rankings. Sabalenka will remain the 2nd tennis player in the world.
Match moments: Sabalenka achieved the first break for 3-2 with a winning lob, but made a double fault and returned the break to level the set at 4-4. Another double fault from Sabalenka brought Rybakina up 6-5, but Rybakina hit a long backhand on that chance, and the pair moved into a tiebreak.
The pair battled back and forth in a grueling 17-minute tiebreak, where Rybakina saw four more set points wiped out. Sabalenka reached two of her set points with a strong forehand in the breaker, but on those occasions she made unforced errors.
Sabalenka’s tenth double fault gave Rybakina her sixth set point at 12-11, where the reigning Wimbledon champion closed out the set after Sabalenka’s forehand flew long. Rybakina is now 6-0 in tiebreaks this season.
Rybakina kept all the momentum as she took a 5-2 lead in the second set. Sabalenka went on a short streak, winning eight points in a row to make it 5-4, but Rybakina conjured another unreturnable serve on her first championship point to seal the win.
More to come…