The word describes Elena Rybakina’s tennis to a tee. Three simple syllables that say everything about the lethal, percussive quality of the 23-year-old’s tennis abilities.
Not only does Rybakina take the racquet out of her opponent’s hands, she takes their time, their rhythm, and their self-belief as well. And she does it without making a peep.
New celebration level unlocked 🔓#TennisParadise pic.twitter.com/uZ1mFWOxrB
— BNP Paribas Open (@BNPPARIBASOPEN) March 18, 2023
Rybakina is tennis’ silent assassin, but she can’t cover her tracks any longer – the world is taking notice. The 2022 Wimbledon champion may be ranked No.10 in the world, but she is clearly one of the premier forces in women’s tennis at the moment – and she’s getting better with every match.
Anyone who saw her plow past World No.1 Iga Swiatek in straight sets in each of their last two meetings knows that the cat is out of the bag. Rybakina is on a path to the top of women’s tennis – the train has well and truly left the station.
It hasn’t been an express route, however.
The 6’0” tour de force has needed seasoning on tour, but now that the 2022 Wimbledon champ has her maiden Grand Slam title under her belt, and another Grand Slam final to boot (at this year’s Australian Open), she’s growing in confidence and coming out of her shell.
“I think I was improving in these four years on tour,” Rybakina told the press after a breathtaking takedown of defending champion Swiatek on Friday night Stadium 1, in which she dropped only four games. “It is just everything coming together: the experience, team became bigger, and working a lot on fitness.”
Many pundits expected Rybakina’s movement to be exposed on Friday night against Swiatek. The Pole, a master tactician who had won each of her last 16 sets at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, has a way of getting her opponents on a string, but it was quite the opposite with Rybakina. At times, Swiatek asked hard questions, opening up the court by changing the direction in rallies. Unfazed, Rybakina ran the court exceptionally well, weathering all storms and biding her time until it was time to send another lightning strike in Swiatek’s direction.
The towering talent has shown that she can do more than hit the cover off the ball this week in the California desert. Defending may not be her calling card, but it is one of the many reasons that she is looking invincible at Indian Wells through five matches.
“Just getting stronger a bit physically, and just the work which we did for the past four years, just showing it now on the court and with my results,” Rybakina says.
The other reason, of course, is the purity of her power strikes.
She can dictate with the best of them, sending searing winners into all corners of the court. The pace and precision of her strokes tends to make even the fleetest of foot seem slow.
Last night’s eye-opening shellacking of Swiatek was a perfect example. The Pole has proven to be near impossible to beat at Indian Wells since last season. On Friday, she found it impossible to compete with Rybakina.
How did the Kazakh do it? By following a simple yet efficient blueprint: Attack and never relent.
“Today I was pushing a lot,” Rybakina said on Friday. “With Iga, she’s tough, really tough opponent, but when I play this good and everything goes in – because today some moments I played, I would say, on my highest level – there are moments where you can feel, ‘Okay, I can beat anyone if I always play like this.'”
If success breeds success, then we should expect Rybakina’s rapid ascent up the WTA rankings to continue unabated. Sunday’s BNP Paribas Open final with Aryna Sabalenka, a woman that has defeated her in three sets in all four of their previous meetings, could be her next big coming out party.