The percussive strikes came early off the racquet of Elena Rybakina, and they never stopped coming.
The 10th-seeded Kazakh delivered a stunning display of power tennis on Friday night at the BNP Paribas Open. She tested defending champion Iga Swiatek in every corner of the court and stormed to an eye-opening 6-2, 6-2 triumph to book her spot alongside Aryna Sabalenka in Sunday’s BNP Paribas Open women’s singles final.
Rybakina is the first player from Kazakhstan to reach a singles final in the tournament’s 47-year history.
“Of course I’m very proud, I really played good today,” Rybakina told the crowd after her 15th win of the season. “I didn’t expect that I was going to play that good today. Yesterday was a really tough match.”
“I had nothing to lose, I just wanted to come and enjoy – it really went my way, I played one of the best matches this year.”
Master 👏 class 👏
Rybakina claims victory over Swiatek for the second time this season to dethrone the champ 6-2, 6-2 and reach a first IW final.#TennisParadise pic.twitter.com/SUGZKLyf7J
— BNP Paribas Open (@BNPPARIBASOPEN) March 18, 2023
It wasn’t thunder that fans inside Stadium 1 were hearing as Rybakina and Swiatek traded blows in the early going, it was the heavy power of the 23-year-old’s groundstrokes, which repeatedly rushed Swiatek and forced her into uncharacteristic errors.
It didn’t take long for Rybakina to edge ahead by a break for 2-0, but Swiatek remained defiant and clung close on the scoreboard, working the baseline as she angled for a break back.
The Pole would earn two chances with Rybakina serving at 3-1 but the No.10 seed would not yield as she saved a pair of break points to claim the 11-point, line-in-the-sand game to go up 4-1.
It would prove to be a turning point.
A discouraged Swiatek ended up double-faulting on set point, an ominous occurrence as she started the second set in a cloud of doubt.
In the end the striking contrast in first-serve points between the two rivals left Swiatek on the back foot far too often in the 76-minute contest. Rybakina won 28 of 34 first-serve points (82.4 percent), while Swiatek only managed to win 12 of 28 (42.9 percent).
Swiatek fell behind 5-0 in the second set before rallying to grab a couple games. It was all the three-time Grand Slam could offer before Rybakina finished off the victory, snapping the Pole’s 10-match BNP Paribas Open winning streak and improving to 2-0 in 2023 against the reigning World No.1.
Rybakina’s victory sets a mouthwatering clash with Aryna Sabalenka for the BNP Paribas Open title on Sunday.
Sabalenka leads the head-to-head 4-0, but all four of their clashes have gone to a deciding set, including their nailbiter in this year’s Australian Open final, won by Sabalenka 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
“It was a really close match in Australia,” Rybakina said on court after her win. “We’ve had so many battles. For now I’m losing, but hopefully on Sunday it’s going to change. If I’m going to play like I did today I think I have all the chances.”