Rybakina, Sabalenka interviews after the Indian Wells final


Elena Rybakina won her first WTA 1000 title at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on a cool, cloudy, and windy Sunday afternoon in a match that lasted just over two hours. The Kazakhstani player defeated Aryna Sabalenka 7-6(11) 6-4, breaking the curse of losing in all four of their previous encounters.

Reflecting on what made the difference, the victor explained to the media: “We both had chances, but in the end, it went my way. So I think it was important this first set, and then it was a bit easier to start the second with an early break.”

After losing in their Australian Open final just over two months ago, Rybakina, who will jump from world No.10 to 7 on Monday, learned some important lessons that she was able to implement on court. Sunday’s winner explained, “On the second serve, I tried to push more because I remember since Australia she was putting a lot of pressure on the second serve. So this is something for me to improve also. I think here, since the conditions are a bit slower, it was kind of easier to play the next shot.”

Asked about how she was going to celebrate, the 23-year-old smiled at the suggestion but was clear that there would be no wild partying, “Probably nothing special. Just because tomorrow we have to leave already to Miami, so we will stay with the team in the house to have just nice dinner. Then we have to quickly pack and go already to Miami.”

Sabalenka was gracious in defeat, congratulating the victor. In a good mood, considering the circumstances, she met with media and said, “It’s a tough loss, but she played unbelievable tennis. It was another tough battle and this one goes to her. She deserves it, she’s a great player.”

The Belarusian backslid in terms of her serve, which she had made great improvements on since last season. The WTA race leader hit 10 double faults in the first set. Reflecting on this, she said, “There will be some days when old habits will come back and you just have to work through it and not every match will be going your way, and you will be serving perfectly. So it’s a reminder that it’s okay to still struggle with something. That’s okay to not play your best and keep fighting and keep using the rest of the weapons.” The 24-year-old added, “Today I would say that I was super disappointed with my serve, so I was back to old habits. I was like a little bit overreacting on things.”

Asked how long the defeat would stay in the forefront of her mind, the Australian Open champion was unconcerned: “I think it’s gonna stay in my head until tomorrow, and tomorrow we are flying to Miami and I will forget this one.” This will be a healthy attitude, facing either Sloane Stephens or Shelby Rogers after the first-round bye.

In the Miami Open, Sabalenka and Rybakina are again in different halves of the draw and the possibility of yet another rematch is not difficult to imagine. The budding rivalry between the power baseliners is one to watch. Looking ahead, the Indian Wells winner said, “Every time I’m gonna play a match against Aryna, it’s gonna be a tough battle. I’m gonna try to prepare, depending also on the conditions. I don’t know how it’s gonna go the next matches we play against each other, but for sure it’s gonna be tough matches again.” And with their form at the start of the season, these two Grand Slam champions are sure to meet in many finals to come.


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