Sunday, March 19, 2023

Turns out that, in the desert, there IS someone to give you pain--lots of it

That would be Elena Rybakina, who took out both the number 1 and the number 2 players in the world to grab the BNP Paribas Open singles title. Rybakina beat world number 1 Iga Swiatek in the semifinals. She had a bit of help in that Swiatek was playing with a rib injury, and was obviously not herself. However, had Swiatek been healthy, she still might have lost to Rybakina, who was hitting bombs left and right.

In the somewhat herky-jerky final with its maddening first set tiebreak, Rybakina defeated Aryna Sabalenka, whose service woes (supposedly behind her, but it's true that "under stress, you regress") paid a visit. Sabalenka double-faulted ten times in the first set, and it was obvious--in the second set--that she became very cautious about her serves.

For her part, Rybakina didn't serve at the level that she did against Swiatek, but she did hit seven aces. Her 7-6, 6-4 victory took just over two hours to complete, and represents her first WTA 1000 event title.

Rybakina also defeated Sofia Kenin, Paula Badosa, Varvara Gracheva, and Karolina Muchova, who dragged the champion to three very tough sets. 

Not at all surprisingly, top seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova won the doubles title, defeating Beatriz Haddad Maia and Laura Siegemund 6-1, 6-7, 10-7.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Beware of kryptonite in the desert, part 2

When I wrote that world number 1 Iga Swiatek might consider lining her cap with lead the next time she faces Barbora Krejcikova, I failed to suggest that she do the same regarding Elena Rybakina. The Wimbledon champion, who defeated Swiatek in straight sets in the round of 16 at the Australian Open, did it again tonight in Indian Wells. Tonight, however, the win was more dramatic.

Rybakina--who carries the demeanor of Chris Evert in a long, tall body--barely escaped the attacks of Karolina Muchova in an exciting, two and three-quarter-hour quarterfinal match. Squeaking out that kind of victory can relax a player. It can also cause fatigue, but that obviously wasn't the case with Rybakina. She came out like the boss she often is, posting an 82.4 first serve win percentage, and quickly winning the opening set against Swiatek, 6-2. 

The world number 1 looked a bit stunned, and I imagine that most fans expected her to come back after the break with a fresh plan. She didn't. Finally, when she was down 0-5, some switch got pulled, and she began to navigate the court's geometry the way she generally does. When she held for 1-5, the crowd roared. She continued the aggression and broke Rybakina when she served for the match. For the first time, the world number 10 looked a bit vulnerable, but she wasn't to be broken again (she retained that 82.4% state, which is quite unusual), and after an hour and sixteen minutes, she deprived Swiatek of her chance to claim a second consecutive Indian Wells title.

The WTA tour is nothing if not ironic, and Rybakina's opponent in the final will be Aryna Sabalenka, who defeated her in the Australian Open final. Sabalenka won her Indian Wells semifinal against Maria Sakkari, 6-2, 6-3. 

During her post-match interview--when asked what she plans to do this time in order to conquer Sabalenka--he ever-coolheaded Rybakina said that her goal is to play on Sunday the way she played tonight. That is indeed a worthy goal.

(Postscript: It turns out that Swiatek sustained a rib injury while she was in Indian Wells, and it was troubling her.)

Meanwhile, the doubles final is set. Top seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova will face Beatriz Haddad Maia and Laura Siegemund for the title.