At this year’s Australian Open final in January, when faced with a one-set deficit, Aryna Sabalenka rallied to a stunning victory over Elena Rybakina for her maiden Grand Slam title.
On Sunday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the pair of WTA stars renewed their rivalry, but this time, Rybakina didn’t let her lead slip.
The 23-year-old defeated World No. 2 Sabalenka to win her first BNP Paribas Open title, 7-6(11), 6-4.
Calm. Cool. Champion. 💪🏆🇰🇿#TennisParadise pic.twitter.com/ffJc9gSlQJ
— BNP Paribas Open (@BNPPARIBASOPEN) March 19, 2023
23-year-old Rybakina, the tournament’s sixth consecutive first-time women’s singles winner, also becomes the first woman to defeat the WTA’s No.1 and No. 2-ranked players during a title run in the California desert.
“It was an incredible two weeks here,” Rybakina told the crowd during the trophy ceremony. “It’s always a pleasure to play against Aryna, and it’s always a tough battle.”
Rybakina will move to No. 7 in the WTA’s rankings on Monday as she continues to assert herself as one of the premier players in women’s tennis.
“Hopefully I will come back next year and repeat this result,” she said.
The battle of BNP Paribas Open final debutantes also marked the third time this century that both Australian Open finalists also played the final at Indian Wells in the same season. Sunday’s final was a hard-hitting, drama-packed affair, highlighted by a rambunctious first set that featured a pair of timely service breaks and one of the wildest tiebreaks in recent memory.
Sabelenka nudged in front for a 4-2 lead in the opening set, but was soon broken back for 4-4. The No.2 seed, who struggled to win second-serve points all afternoon and served 10 double-faults in the opening set, saved a match point as the pair moved into a first-set tiebreak.
From there, chaos ensued.
Several twists and turns and seven combined set points later, Rybakina emerged with the 78-minute set in tow.
“This tiebreak was really epic, I would say, with all these double faults and nerves,” Rybakina said in her post-match press conference. “So in the end, it was just focusing on every point and try to fight till the end.”
Sabalenka would head off court for a change of clothes after the set, but when she returned, the momentum stayed with Rybakina.
The Kazakh quickly broke for 2-0 and added an insurance break for 5-2, before Sabalenka caught a second wind and hit back to close the gap to 5-4.
Her comeback attempt would prove futile as Rybakina served out the title, swatting a forehand winner to bring up two championship points. One more giant serve, and a netted reply from Sabalenka, ended the contest at the two hour and four-minute mark.
“Today I would say that I was super disappointed with my serve, so I was back to old habits,
a disappointed Sabalenka said in her post-match press conference. “I was like a little bit overreacting on things, and I wasn’t there in the first two games in the second set.”
Rybakina earns her first win over Sabalenka after dropping each of their previous four meetings in a deciding third-set.
It wasn’t an ideal serving performance from Sabalenka – she was only able to win 11 of 35 second-serve points, which significantly contributed to her ultimate downfall.
But she saw the bright side, and was quick to flash a smile as she cracked the top joke of the fortnight with Rybakina during the trophy ceremony.
“It’s actually the first time it went my way,” Rybakina told Sabalenka on court as she addressed the crowd and referred to the pair’s previous meetings, before Sabalenka stepped up, grabbed the mic and said:
“I will make sure it was the last one.”