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Elena Rybakina Sunshine Double

Putting respect on Elena Rybakina’s name is long overdue


Indian Wells and Miami always leaves us with a lot to think about. This year, Elena Rybakina and Petra Kvitova answered some important questions. 


The Sunshine Swing comes with a big reputation in tennis. While the biggest tournaments in the tennis calendar come thick and fast between Roland Garros and the US Open, Indian Wells and Miami bridge the gap between Australia and Paris. With that expectation comes with pressure, and it hasn’t always delivered. This year, though, it certainly did and Elena Rybakina was at the very heart of it.

There is no doubt that Rybakina has found a totally new level this year. She started lowly, as many top players do, losing two of her three matches across both Adelaide tournaments in January. One of those was against Ukrainian qualifier Marta Kostyuk while the other was against Kvitova.

Warm-up events for the Australian Open are notoriously volatile, though. Different players come into them in different stages of readiness for competition. Some are natural rhythm players while others need a few sets to find their best tennis. It has always been this way and it probably always will.

Generally speaking, though, by the time the players get to Melbourne Park for the main event, we get a genuine reflection of what level the players are at. With Rybakina, that level was stunning. She should have been seeded a lot higher than 22, and that gave her a tricky path that had her on an early collision course with Iga Swiatek. That meeting happened in the round of 16 and the Pole was consummately dismissed in straight sets. In women’s tennis right now, that’s as big a statement as you can make.

Elena Rybakina Wimbledon 2022

Not satisfied with defeating one major winner in Australia, Elena Rybakina proceeded to beat two more in Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka – also both in straight sets. Aryna Sabalenka was just too good for her in the final, although it was starting to look like those declaring Rybakina’s Wimbledon win an anomaly had badly misjudged the Kazakhstani star.

And yet, she still headed for the Sunshine Swing with a lot of prove in many people’s eyes. She comes out of it firmly established as one of the top players in the WTA.

Iga Swiatek was again defeated – and in straight sets again – while she got some semblance of revenge on Sabalenka to win the Indian Wells title. She couldn’t complete the Sunshine Double, but she came mightily close. Only a vintage performance by the seemingly evergreen Petra Kvitova could stop her.

“Happy with the run and super proud of myself,” Elena Rybakina said at the end of Miami. Who could blame her? She had dismissed her doubters as easily as she had dismissed the dominant player in the WTA, twice. She left the States as world number seven, although her ranking was missing the 2,000 points her Wimbledon title should have contributed. With them, she would be firmly established as the world number three behind only Swiatek and Sabalenka.

Those three players hold all four majors right now, and so you have to wonder whether a new established order in the WTA is starting to emerge. It probably is, but Miami also showed us the Tour’s propensity for nice surprises.

Elena Rybakina - Australian Open 2023

Kvitova’s star had definitely faded in recent years. Her quality has never been doubt, and that wonderful left arm of hers still one of the most feared and respected weapons in women’s tennis. Putting it to its best possible use was becoming an issue, though. The Czech has not been past a Grand Slam last 16 for nearly three years. That must have been a shock to the system for a player used to regularly competing at, and occasionally winning, Grand Slams during a fine career.

Belief is a fragile thing in tennis. It is intrinsically linked to winning and Kvitova has not done enough of that later. The fewer titles you win the harder it becomes, and Kvitova admitted after Miami that she was starting to wonder whether, at 33, her time had simply gone by.

“I have no idea what this will do in the season,” Kvitova said. “I’m just happy that I won it from nothing, I would say. I think I’m playing pretty good tennis starting the year, but, you know, didn’t go really deep in the tournament. Finally I have it.

“I think I just take it very positively that I can still compete with the best. The clay is waiting and then it’s grass. The tennis world is just very fast, and I can’t really stand there and be watching this trophy all the time. I have to move forward, of course, as everybody would. It means a lot for me that even in my age I can still win a big tournament. That’s the biggest thing.”

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