Sabalenka, Rybakina to face each other for Indian Wells title in Australian Open final re-match

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It’s a deja vu at Indian Wells, but not the one some might have expected. Last year’s finalists, Iga Swiatek and Maria Sakkari, lost their BNP Paribas Open semifinal matches to this year’s Australian Open finalists, Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka.

Aryna Sabalenka powers past Maria Sakkari

Aryna Sabalenka defeated Maria Sakkari 6-2 6-3 in Friday’s semifinals. This was the Greek’s only two-set match in the whole tournament, and the Belarusian barely gave her a chance to get comfortable on the court. With powerful shots that the slow courts could hardly dull, the current WTA race leader pushed through the world No.7’s defenses.

The match was delayed more than a half hour due to technical issues with the audio system on court connected to automatic line calling. Before it was up and running again, the WTA worked to assemble a team of umpires who could serve as lines judges and even brought chairs to the court for them.

In her post match press conference, the second-seeded Sabalenka showed that she was a calmer player than had taken the court as recently as last year. Asked about how the delay affected her, the Australian Open title holder recalled, “For a second, I was thinking, oops, something is going wrong today. It’s not going to be the same. But then I remind myself that that’s okay. Stuff like that can happen, and that’s okay. So I just have to kind of calm down myself and relax and wait till they fix the system.”

Speaking with press after her victory, the 24-year-old Sabalenka explained, “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. So that’s why I keep working hard, make sure in those days when things are not working my way, I still will be able to compete and to get these wins.”

Although the score line is convincing, a deeper look at the numbers shows a drop from Sabalenka’s previous match against Coco Gauff. In the quarterfinal victory, Sabalenka had a first-serve percentage of 73%, this dipped to 58% in the semifinal.

Elena Rybakina defeats Iga Swiatek

Tenth seed Elena Rybakina defeated top seed Iga Swiatek 6-2 6-2. The Kazakhstani player could barely believe it herself, telling the media, “Today was really great match for me, because I played unbelievable. I would say one of the best matches I played this year.” In this semifinal, the Wimbledon champion led 5-0 in the second set and had her first two match points at 5-1.

Swiatek’s level was visibly down from pervious matches, winning only 43% of first serve points. Speaking with media after the match, the Polish world No.1 complimented her opponent saying, “Elena played great tennis today, and I feel like against her I have to play better. She was playing really well.”

Swiatek went on to explain to the press that she was suffering with an injury: “I have a little discomfort in my rib and we’re going to consult with medical team.” Without giving much detail, the 21-year-old title defender conceded that treatment for this issue was the reason for her hours long delay of a press conference after her quarterfinal.

Not leaving the tournament as a sore loser, the departing top seed added, “I’m pretty sad that I lost, but on the other hand, overall, it’s a pretty good tournament for me.” Swiatek intends to play in Miami, but will stay in the Indian Wells area as she awaits more medical information.

Speaking about her upcoming match against Sabalenka, against whom she has a 0-4 head-to-head record, the 23-year-old Rybakina said, “I lost the last four times and it was always three sets. 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.”

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