Tenth-seeded Elena Rybakina prevailed in a marathon tiebreak and went on to notch a 7-6 (11), 6-4 victory over second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka on Sunday to win the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, Calif.
The Kazakh recorded seven aces while winning her fourth career title. The 2022 Wimbledon champion needed two hours, three minutes to finish off the victory over Sabalenka, the No. 2-ranked player in the world.
Rybakina beat World No. 1 Iga Swiatek of Poland in the semifinals to set up a coveted rematch with Sabalenka. The Belarus native was previously 4-0 against Rybakina and beat her in the Australian Open final earlier this year.
“It is always tough battles against Aryna so this time it went my way,” Rybakina said. “So finally I broke this head to head — zero-4, now 1-4. Yeah, I’m just happy with the win.”
Rybakina, 23, had 26 winners against 16 unforced errors while winning her first 1000-level title. Sabalenka was plagued by 10 double faults and 34 unforced errors and hit 29 winners.
Rybakina improved to 16-5 this season and is happiest about the improvement in her game.
“In previous years, I was playing well and I was improving but I also didn’t have this consistency,” Rybakina said. “From the beginning of the year until now, it has been good work with the fitness coach. … And we’re trying to change technique and becoming more open to the net.”
Sabalenka, 24, dropped to 17-2 this season. She was frustrated with her performance, particularly the return of serving issues that derailed her earlier in her career.
“I would say that I was super disappointed with my serve, so I was back to old habits,” Sabalenka said. “I was like a little bit overreacting on things, and I wasn’t there in the first two games in the second set.
“I was just like all over the place and I was just trying to bring myself back on court and keep fighting.”
Rybakina had five set points during the first-set tiebreaker before finally converting to win in 79 minutes. Sabalenka had two set points during the tiebreaker.
“It was a roller coaster,” Rybakina said. “It was back and forth so I think we were both so tired. … I’m happy the first set went my way so the second set was easier.”
Rybakina won the first two games of the second set and never trailed before closing out the victory. She is projected to rise to a career-high No. 7 in the world on Monday.
“I think the biggest goal is of course to be No. 1,” Rybakina said. “There is still a long way to go. So this is the kind of end goal, I would say.
“For now, I’m 7, but you know how quickly the ranking changes. So I need to always focus on the next tournament I play.”
–Field Level Media