Rybakina, Cornet Finding Positive Results in Strasbourg

WASHINGTON, September 21, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Elena Rybakina reached four WTA finals at the start of the season, compiled a 21-4 win-loss record and won a hardcourt title at Hobart. Yet, a month after the tour’s relaunch, the 18th-ranked Russian-born Kazakh finds herself trying to recapture the spark that lifted her ranking into the Top 20.

“I’m not in my best form,” the fifth-seeded Rybakina said during a virtual media conference after she beat Belgian Greet Mineen 7-5, 6-4 in the first round of the Internationaux de Strasbourg in the capital city of the Grand Est region in northeastern France on Monday. She’s just 4-3 since the WTA’s relaunch last month. “I’m just trying to play as many matches as I can. But it’s getting better with every match, so I think I can find my rhythm.”

According to the 18th-ranked Rybakina, she had many ups and downs during her 91-minute match with Mineen and had to save a set point before pulling out the opening set. “I was rushing a bit,” she said. “I’m glad I won today.

“I can’t say it was my best tennis; I played better in the second set than in the first set. Overall, it was a good match.

“Of course, I want to do better.”

Rybakina will get her chance in Tuesday’s second round when she faces 51st-ranked Alizé Cornet of France, who advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 win over No. 50 Polona Hercog of Slovenia. Cornet played from the advantage of being ahead almost the entire match. That’s because she broke Hercog’s serve six times in 18 tries – three times in each set.

“It’s not always easy being ahead in the match all the time,” Cornet said during a virtual chat she shared with Tennis TourTalk after her victory Monday afternoon. “We always say we play more relaxed when we’re behind in the score. Today, I could have done better. I had three balls to get to 5-2 in the second set and I didn’t do it. Overall, I managed well when I was ahead because I was calm, and I knew what I had to do on the court. 

“When you’re leading on the scoreboard that’s what you have to do – figure out what is working – and keep doing it to the end. That’s what I did and I’m happy about it.”

Cornet outscored her opponent 67-54 thanks to scoring 12 more points on returns as well as coming out ahead by a point of her service points.

When Cornet was asked what she was most proud of about her win against Hercog, she credited her tactical game. “It was a very solid game tactically. I was playing really well, not overplaying or being too aggressive. My attitude was one of the best points today because I remained calm all the time,” she said.

“I feel I’m on the right track right now. Since the return to play [in New York], I feel mentally things are happening and that’s what I’m really proud of.”

Cornet, whose record since returning is 6-2 and includes a fourth-round run at the recent US Open, said she views competing this week in Strasbourg – a tournament she won seven years ago in 2013 – as a good preparation for next week’s French Open because of the similarity in playing conditions. “I want to go as far as possible. Winning it is a goal in itself,” she said.

“Next week [the French Open] is a big event and, of course, I want to do good because it’s the home slam on clay.”

Besides Rybakina and Cornet, among those advancing to the second round were No. 4 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, who was a 6-4, 6-3 winner over 240th-ranked Australian qualifier Ellen Perez, and No. 7 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia, who defeated 277th-ranked Australian lucky loser Storm Sanders 6-1, 6-0. Also, moving on were: 2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko, Zarina Diyas, Nao Hibino, qualifier Zhang Shuai, Katerina Siniakova, Anna Blinkova and Magda Linette. Plus, it was a tough day for Americans as four from the United States – Lauren Davis, Christina McHale, Sloane Stephens and Bernarda Pera – all lost in the opening round. The Strasbourg tournament, a WTA International clay-court event, runs through Saturday.

Cornet’s new book, ‘Sans Compromis’ is a hit

Speaking of Cornet, who is a devoted lover of reading literature and writing, when Tennis TourTalk asked about her recently published book, Sans Compromis (Without Compromise)it drew a big smile from the 30-year-old native of Nice. She was eager to talk about it.

“People are really loving it,” she said. “It touches me a lot because I’m very emotional. I’m proud of this book and happy I’ve found people to read it and be happy about it.

“It’s very special to me. I don’t call myself an author, but I’m finding people are enjoying reading my book. For me, that’s the best reward possible.”

In Sans Compromis, Cornet writes about her life on the pro tennis tour and it’s a mixture of autobiography and travelogue. Just this year alone, Cornet has traveled to play in tournaments in New Zealand, Australia, Russia, France, the United States and back to France. Meanwhile, last year, Cornet’s tournament travels also took her to Belgium, the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, Morocco, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, Switzerland, Austria and Japan.

When Cornet was asked if any of her fellow competitors on tour have read it or are reading it, she said, “Yeah, Caroline Garcia was reading it during the US Open and she loved it. The way she told me how she enjoyed it and read it in 24 hours, I was really touched by it. There are a couple of guys reading it, too. I can’t wait to have feedback from my fellow tennis players. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”

What they’re saying in Strasbourg

• World No. 12 Aryna Sabalenka, seeded fourth at Internationaux de Strasbourg, following her first-round win against Australian qualifier Ellen Perez, which was her first match on clay in 2020: “I just want to find the right game for the clay court and the right rhythm, and I just want to find myself in this tournament. I want to go as far as I can, that’s why we’re here.”

Jelena Ostapenko, ranked 43rd and unseeded at Internationaux de Strasbourg, on the expectations that were placed on her after winning Roland Garros as age 20: “I was not mentally ready to win a Grand Slam at a young age. It all came very sudden. There was so much attention from everybody. My life changed. Everyone expected me to play the same almost every week I played. … People still expect a lot from me because they see the potential. … Now, I’m just trying to enjoy playing the game.”

Nao Hibino of Japan, ranked 83rd and unseeded at Internationaux de Strasbourg, on what it meant to her to beat Sloane Stephens, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 on Monday, which snapped a five-match losing streak dating back to March: “Last week, I lost in qualies in Rome and it was not a good match. I learned from that. I really wanted to win this match, and of course, Sloane is a good player on clay courts. So, I prepared mentally and with tactics, and I think it helped a lot today. It gave me confidence. I want to give everything I have [this week]. This and the French Open are my last tournaments of the season.”

First day of practice at Roland Garros

Around the tennis world

Stan Wawrinka / Parting company with his coach

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Thank you ! After 8 great years together @swedennorman and I have decided to part ways by mutual consent. We have had a amazingly strong, enjoyable and hugely successful partnership. We reached the height of this sport together and I want to thank him for helping me win everything that I could ever dreamt of winning. He’s been a great coach, friend and mentor and will always be a dear friend. I want to publicly thank him for all his hard work dedication and commitment in making me a better player over the years. Winning 3 grand slams has been a life changing experience for me and I could not have done that without him. Wishing him all the best in his next chapter in his life ! ❤️🙏🏻

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Carla Suárez Navarro / Full of courage and hope