Seed No.17 Elena Rybakina defeated two-time champion and 2021 finalist Victoria Azarenka 6-3 6-4 in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
The former world No.1 Azarenka had her shoulder covered in kinesiology tape and at one point delayed play while taking a moment to herself. Azarenka did not ask for a medical time out or to see a trainer, but the pause rattled Rybakina who was unsure what was happening.
Following the match, Rybakina told media that, “today probably it was more tough psychologically than physically like the first match.” Asked to clarify, she suggested being unhappy with the preferential treatment she feels Azarenka got, for not having to face a punishment for delay of play.
At the same time, the world No.20 Rybakina was concerned for her opponent’s well-being. “I would say rules are probably not for everybody because it was very strange situation. I just hope everything is good with Vika because I don’t know what happened. Hope everything is okay.” Azarenka has not made a statement clarifying what happened on court.
Despite frustrations, the victory is a great confidence boost to Rybakina, who has been slowed by multiple medical issues this season. She retired from the Australian Open, owing to blisters, on top of struggles with plantar fasciitis. In St. Petersburg, she was sick with symptomatic COVID-19. She herself was surprised at how badly her case developed: “At night I felt really bad […] It was really, really tough. In one week I think I lost four kilos. I had high fever. I really didn’t expect. I thought it’s going to be easier.”
Finding her groove again at Indian Wells, she says “Here is the first tournament I can say, yes, after corona I’m feeling much better. I’m not coughing. Maybe physically, as I said, I didn’t have good preparation, didn’t practice much, but at least I’m very happy that now I can play.” Her positive attitude is palpable, “No matter if the shot is good, it’s not good, I’m just happy that now I’m moving, I’m not in the bed. It’s just keep on working.”