Elena Rybakina made her way to the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday – her first appearance in the final four of a Hologic WTA Tour 1000 event.
Rybakina picked up a 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-4 victory over resurgent Karolina Muchova. But if not for a pair of errant forehands that were poorly timed in the first set, this match could well have gone the other way.
“It was very difficult today,” Rybakina said during his on-court interview. “I didn’t start very well. I was a little slower than usual. Karolina, she played very well. And then in the important moments, I played well.
Defending Wimbledon champion and Australian Open runner-up Rybakina will meet No. 1 Iga Swiatek, who knocked out Sorana Cirstea later on Friday. Either way, Rybakina will bring solid confidence to this game.
She has shared two matches with Swiatek, but the most recent encounter – in the fourth round of the Australian Open in January – went to Rybakina in straight sets.
Afterwards, reporters asked Rybakina if the result against Swiatek in Melbourne would affect Friday’s game.
“I try not to think about it,” she says, “because they’re different conditions. It also depends a lot on how I feel physically. I’m a bit of a realist in these things. I know that, of course, if I do my best tomorrow, chances are I will win.
“If it’s going to be a bit of a drop like today, maybe in the second set when it was very fast, the first three games of the second set, then of course the chances are less just because she’s n °1 and it’s very consistent “So there’s not a lot of room for error I would say.”
How far has Rybakina come in one year? Last season, the 23-year-old Kazakh lost to Maria Sakkari in the quarter-finals here. Despite difficult conditions that weren’t conducive to his intense striking game, Rybakina showed remarkable patience against Muchova. She’s a rhythm player, and after a grueling 76-minute first set, she started to find her groove.
The match lasted a dizzying 2 hours and 45 minutes. Rybakina had 44 winners, balanced by 32 unforced errors.
Prior to last year, Muchova made three deep runs in Grand Slam singles draws – the Wimbledon quarter-finals in 2019 and 2021 and the Australian Open 2021 semi-finals. injuries arose and she saw her ranking drop into the 200s. A torn abdominal muscle cost her seven months, from August 2021 to March 2022, then a sprained ankle and wrist severely compromised her season last year. last.
Muchova reached the quarter-finals of the Dubai 1000 but pulled out of that match against Jessica Pegula, citing another abdominal problem. Competing in Indian Wells for the first time, Muchova progressed steadily through the draw, beating Yulia Putintseva, No. 14 seed Victoria Azarenka, No. 23 Martina Trevisan and Marketa Vondrousova in order.
Three of those four matches were straight sets, and by the time she made it to the quarter-finals, she had been on the court for over nine hours and had a tightly stuck left thigh and running coach tape down her legs. two legs.
Struggling to salvage two breaks in her first service game, Muchova came into the fifth game tied with Rybakina. Then, in a match that took over eight minutes, she scored the game’s first break. She took a 3-2 lead with a series of sharp backhands.
That lead held until a set point, with Muchova serving at 5-4. She followed a big serve to the net but her forehand volley didn’t land near the court. After Rybakina failed to convert five break points, she crushed the sixth, with a forehand which Muchova could not find.
The tiebreaker ended with another forehand miss from Muchova. On serve at 4-5, she sent a shuttlecock. Clearly discouraged, Muchova double faulted at the net cord and Rybakina had won her fifth tiebreaker of the year – to zero losses.
Muchova staged an impressive re-set, breaking Rybakina in the second game of the second set and eventually taking a 3-0 lead. And then she ended that with another break to take the second set – the first set dropped for Rybakina this year in Indian Wells.
She entered the match with the most clean approaches, but by the third set Muchova wasn’t moving as well – and her speed of serve had dropped significantly. Rybakina scored the decisive break in game three when Muchova double faulted. Serving at 4-3, Rybakina saw Muchova force the eighth game to two but two big serves, the second an ace, brought her closer to the semis. An ace in the middle, on a third match point, finished it.
Muchova, ranked No. 76 among players on the WTA Tour, was trying to become only the third ranked player outside the Top 50 to reach the semi-finals in the tournament’s long history.