Elena Rybakina had lost four deciding sets to Aryna Sabalenka coming into championship Sunday at the BNP Paribas Open.
Wanting history to avoid repeating itself, the Kazakh ensured their Australian Open final rematch was wrapped up in straight sets. Rybakina defeated the No. 2 seed, 7-6 (11), 6-4, saving two set points en route to notching her first win over Sabalenka in five encounters. It marked her first title run since becoming a Wimbledon champion last July.
And with it, Rybakina took down the top-two ranked players on the WTA Tour, adding to her semifinal victoy over world No. 1 Iga Swiatek. She is now 4-8 in tour-level finals and will rise to a career-high No. 7 in the WTA rankings on Monday. Sabalenka meanwhile, suffered just her second defeat in 19 matches this year.
The opening set was as intense as the scoreline reads. In a shootout that Chanda Rubin would appropriately describe as “rapid fire tennis”, Sabalenka had the initial break before double-faulting it away in the eighth game, a narrative that would unfortunately grow for the Belarusian.
In her four previous matches in the desert, Sabalenka combined to donate 11 double faults. She hit 10 in the first set alone Sunday, with three coming when the set winner was hanging in the balance.
Sabalenka serving at 7-6 (eighth)
Rybakina serving at 8-7 (first)
Sabalenka serving at 9-9 (ninth)
Sabalenka serving at 11-11 (10th)
Rybakina finally shut the door when her opponent pushed a forehand well long. Sabalenka’s decision to take considerable pace off her serve in the second set didn’t pay off against a fellow power player. As the more confident competitor, Rybakina built a double-break lead, a cushion that proved invaluable given the wind factor on Stadium 1. Having dropped her serve against the wind the first time she served for the trophy, Rybakina used the element to her advantage when the pair switched sides, closing at 15.
Rybakina only made 52 percent of her first serves, but managed to take 52 percent of her second-serve points (compared to Sabalenka’s 33 percent success rate).