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Elena Rybakina edges closer to Australian Open spotlight with Danielle Collins thriller
The reigning Wimbledon champion sent last year’s finalist packing to make her first second week appearance in Melbourne.
Published Jan 20, 2023
WATCH: Rybakina first began rounding back into form over the off-season with a winning week at World Tennis League.
Elena Rybakina was a Grand Slam champion by the time she arrived in Flushing Meadows, but the reigning Wimbledon winner didn’t feel any different.
“In one tournament I go and play against the greatest champion, [Garbiñe] Muguruza,” she complained, “and we play on Court No. 4. This is kind of like question for me.”
Without the automatic prestige that ranking points typically bestow, the Russian left a stripped All England Club tasked with building her own spotlight—no easy feat given her quiet disposition and soft-spoken delivery.
One thing that speaks for itself is her game, and after a lethal mix of pressure and disappointment hobbled what remained of last season, the Russian-born Kazakh is back to carrying a big stick and is clubbing her way through the Australian summer regardless of court assignment.
Starting the tournament out on Court 13 before getting a well-earned bump to Margaret Court Arena, Rybakina continued her march toward Rod Laver Arena on Friday with a 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 win over 2022 finalist Danielle Collins.
The two had faced off just two weeks ago, but where the No. 22 seed rallied from a set down in Adelaide, she suffered no slow start on the small-but-mighty Kia Arena, roaring out to a 5-1 lead before serving out the first set in 31 minutes.
Seeded No. 13, Collins makes an ideal foil for Rybakina, a player who has been in her own way overlooked in the wake of her major breakthrough last January but one who has a charisma that makes her command viewing whenever—and wherever—she competes. Those heroics were already on display through her first two matches as she needed three sets to defeat both Anna Kalinskaya and 2021 semifinalist Karolina Muchova in titanic efforts.
My serve is my weapon, and in the end it helped me in the important moments. I hope it can help me in the next round. Elena Rybakina
Back on Kia Arena Friday afternoon, the American could do little more that weather the storm through the second set, striking an even 11 winners to unforced errors as Rybakina threatened to overwhelm her with flashier offense.
Digging out of a long ninth game that could have let Rybakina serve out the match, Collins saved break point and drew a late stream of errors to level the match at one set apiece.
Ostensibly adrift after having the contest completely in her control, Rybakina dialed back in and often, cracking 13 more winners in the deciding set for a match total of 33 as she took another 5-1 lead.
Much like the first set, Collins gamely served to stay in the match but was ultimately overwhelmed by Rybakina’s easy power. Earning three match points, a service winner brought the Kazakh to an unemotional finish as the infamously understated Kazakh hardly cracked a smile when acknowledging the crowd.
Last summer, that could have been attributed to some lingering resentments; now, one can read that unemotionality as an understanding that Rybakina has a job to do. In the midst of another chaotic major tournament, the 23-year-old is among the few proven commodities in women’s tennis. Should she maintain the soundness of her big stick tennis, she could find herself going toe-to-toe with the likes of Iga Swiatek on Rod Laver Arena in the next round.