Six Matches, Two Countries, Eight Days: Rybakina Is Playing Freely

DUBAI, February 19, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Elena Rybakina arrived in the Emirates Monday for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships unseeded and unsung. But don’t let her quiet, shy demeanor fool you. She’s out to win.

Just 20, the Moscow-born Kazakh is continuing her run of in-form play that saw her break out in 2019, when she finished the year ranked 37th after beginning it at No. 192. This week, she entered the Top 20 for the first time in her brief pro career at No. 19. Rybakina has won more matches – 16 and counting – than any other player on the WTA Tour this season, and she’s reached the finals in three out of four tournaments she’s entered. Rybakina lifted the trophy at Hobart (for her second career tour-level title) and finished runner-up at Shenzhen as well as last Sunday in her first WTA Premier final in St. Petersburg, where she lost to World No. 8 Kiki Bertens.

Rybakina, who has played six matches in two countries in eight days, rallied for a satisfying 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-3 win over No. 5 seed and Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin Tuesday evening. During their two-hour featured match on Centre Court at the Aviation Club, Rybakina won 65 percent of her first- and second-serve points, saved four of five break-point opportunities, and outpointed Kenin 102-94. Her seven service aces lifted her tour-leading total to 111.

“I had a good pre-season actually,” said Rybakina during her post-match interview session Tuesday. “First time I did like six weeks of preparation. I feel good on court. Of course, tired today because of the flight. I just finished a tournament. But still I feel confidence.”

Kenin praises Rybakina’s play 

While Kenin may not have played the way she had hoped, the World No. 7 gave props to Rybakina, who will face unseeded Katerina Siniakova, ranked 58th, in Wednesday’s second round. “Of course, yeah, she played well,” Kenin said after their first head-to-head meeting. “She’s having a lot of match play. She’s having great results. She’s playing some really good tennis.

“I think this is the best tennis that I have seen her play. … She’s playing big, serving, playing freely. She’s playing as if she has no pressure and it’s helping her.”

And how did Rybakina see her performance? “To be honest, I didn’t (feel) nervous at all because I knew it’s going to be tough. I didn’t expect that I will win. I mean, I tried to do my best, but I was not nervous.”

Rybakina hasn’t had time to be nervous. Instead, she’s busy playing freely and letting her racquet do her talking. And winning, too.