The word perfectly describes Elena Rybakina’s tennis. Three simple syllables that say it all about the lethal and hard-hitting quality of the 23-year-old’s tennis abilities.
Not only does Rybakina take the racquet out of her opponent’s hands, but she also takes her time, pace and confidence. And she does it quietly.
New celebration level unlocked 🔓#TennisParadise pic.twitter.com/uZ1mFWOxrB
— BNP Paribas Open (@BNPPARIBASOPEN) March 18, 2023
Rybakina is tennis’ silent assassin, but she can’t cover her tracks anymore – the world takes notice. The 2022 Wimbledon champion may be ranked No. 10 in the world, but she’s clearly one of the main strengths in women’s tennis right now – and she’s getting better with every game.
Anyone who has seen her beat world No. 1 Iga Swiatek in straight sets in each of their last two meetings knows the cat is out of the bag. Rybakina is on her way to the top of women’s tennis – the train has indeed left the station.
It was not an express route, however.
The 6’0” stunt needed seasoning on tour, but now that the 2022 Wimbledon champion has her first Grand Slam title under her belt and another Grand Slam final to boot (at Australian Open this year), she is gaining confidence and coming out of her shell.
“I think I’ve improved in these four years of touring,” Rybakina told reporters after defending champion Swiatek’s jaw-dropping withdrawal from Stadium 1 on Friday night, in which she didn’t only lost four games. “It’s just that it all comes together: experience, the team has grown and worked a lot on fitness.”
Many pundits expected Rybakina’s move to be on display Friday night against Swiatek. The Pole, a master tactician who had won each of his last 16 sets at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, has a way of bringing his opponents over a string, but it was quite the opposite with Rybakina. Sometimes Swiatek would ask tough questions, opening the field by changing the direction of the rallies. Unfazed, Rybakina handled the field exceptionally well, weathering every storm and biding his time until it was time to send another thunderbolt in Swiatek’s direction.
The immense talent showed she could do more than kick the ball this week in the California desert. Defending might not be her calling card, but it’s one of the many reasons she looks invincible at Indian Wells for five matches.
“I’m just getting a bit stronger physically, and just the work we’ve done over the past four years, I’m showing now on the pitch and with my results,” Rybakina said.
The other reason, of course, is the purity of his powerful strikes.
She can dictate with the best of them, sending hot winners to every corner of the field. The rhythm and precision of his kicks tend to make even the fastest foot seem sluggish.
Last night’s telltale bombing of Swiatek was a perfect example. The Pole has proven almost impossible to beat at Indian Wells since last season. On Friday, she found it impossible to compete with Rybakina.
How did the Kazakhs do it? By following a simple but effective plan: attack and never give in.
“Today I was pushing a lot,” Rybakina said on Friday. “With Iga he’s a tough opponent, really tough, but when I’m playing this well and everything is going – because today at times I played, I would say, at my highest level. – there are times when you can feel, ‘Okay, I can beat anybody if I always play like this.
If success breeds success, we should expect Rybakina’s rapid rise up the WTA rankings to continue unabated. Sunday’s BNP Paribas Open final with Aryna Sabalenka, a woman who has beaten her in three sets in their previous four encounters, could be her next big coming out party.