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Brisbane: Rybakina Gets Revenge And Trophy Down Under

Jan 7th 2024

Elena Rybakina routs Sabalenka 6-0, 6-3 for sixth career title

While the dust and rust from last season had scarcely time to accumulate, the players were off to the races before the new year commenced. On paper, this promised to be another scintillating edition of a burgeoning and riveting rivalry, but Elena Rybakina tossed the script. 

Aryna Sabalenka, the defending Australian Open champion defeated Rybakina for her first grand slam title in three grueling sets and would win their last match of 2023 also in three, in round-robin play at the WTA Finals Cancun.

Rybakina took the two matches in between both in straights; the final at Indian Wells and the quarters in Beijing. While Sabalenka led the head-to-head 5-2, both were playing exceedingly well in Brisbane advancing to the final without dropping a set. Both reached career-high rankings last season; Sabalenka #1 and Rybakina #3 but have lost a spot since the season concluded. 

Sabalenka a year older at twenty-five, was the #1 seed at the Brisbane International, a WTA 500 event. The affable and beguiling Belarusian was hoping to kick-start her Aussie Open title defense with her fourteenth title while Rybakina the #2 seed and 2022 Wimbledon champion representing Kazakhstan, was in search of her sixth. 

(Tertius Pickard / Associated Press)

Rybakina won the toss and elected to serve. She made 3/5 first serves and held easily to 15 while Sabalenka gifted three unforced errors and dumped serve despite two winners including an ace up the tee.

Rybakina opened the third with a sweet backhand drop volley winner and held at love to consolidate the break with an ace out wide. Sabalenka off-balance and unsettled, struck two forehand winners but faced break point and dropped serve when Rybakina ripped a backhand return down the line. 

Rybakina continued to strike the ball with pace, depth, and conviction and with her second ace, consolidated the break for a commanding 5-0 lead. Sabalenka opened the sixth with another backhand error but with her second ace, reached double game point but conceded the set with a double fault and three additional backhand errors.

Both left the court following the conclusion of the first set. Rybakina opened the second with an ace up the tee and with another and an unreturnable out wide, held to 30. Sabalenka hit two winners including her third ace but donated five unforced errors and dropped serve. The world #4 opened with an ace out wide but with two groundstroke errors faced break point and dropped serve for the first time. 

Sabalenka finally was on the board but had yet to hold serve. She called the trainer who treated her left upper thigh on court during the changeover. The world #2 opened the fourth with a shanked forehand off a penetrating return and despite three blistering winners, gave back the break.

Rybakina smelling blood, struck two consecutive aces and held to 15 to consolidate the break while Sabalenka refusing to submit, held at love for 2-4 with a remarkable backhand down the line. Rybakina made 4/6 first serves and held to 30 for 5-2 while Sabalenka serving to stay in the match, struck two forehand winners and held. 

Rybakina opened the ninth with a backhand volley winner and with a forehand drop volley, reached double match point which she converted when her opponent’s return went wide. 

It was a stunningly poised and dominating performance. The 2022 Wimbledon champion will head to Melbourne with a ton of confidence having handcuffed the reigning Australian Open champion.

She finished with seven aces, zero double faults, and won 73% of first and 60% of second serve points. She was equally effective when returning winning 47% of first and 65% of second serve return points while converting 5/7 break points but it was her movement and volleys that spoke volumes.