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Elena Rybakina surges into second Grand Slam semifinal with Australian Open title in sight
The reigning Wimbledon champion made quick work of a resurgent Jelena Ostapenko and appears to have found the form that took her to victory at the All England Club.
Published Jan 24, 2023
WATCH: Rybakina rocked the women's draw when she stunned world No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the fourth round.
Elena Rybakina was in a zone when she won Wimbledon last summer. Unemotional in approach, she decimated the field with surgical precision, armed with a no-nonsense technique that can leave opponents struggling to find a weakness when she’s playing anywhere near her best.
Though she struggled to maintain that form in the immediate aftermath of that career-changing milestone, the Russian-born Kazakh looks to be even better than that All England Club best in Melbourne Park, and if her 6-2, 6-4 win over former Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko is any indication, Rybakina looks poised to run away with this Australian Open title—no matter what the remaining opposition may have in mind.
“I’m super happy to be first time in the semifinals. It was an amazing atmosphere,” she said, thanking the crowd for their support. “Of course, I was nervous, especially in the last game, to be honest. Not as nervous as before the match, but I’m super happy with how I managed the emotions and I played really well today.”
Still just 23 years old, Rybakina has endured multiple stumbling blocks in her ascent towards the top of women’s tennis. Her 2020 breakthrough was curbed by the global pandemic and, much to her public chagrin, her Wimbledon victory came with no ranking points thanks to the AELTC’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian citizens from competing. The snub ultimately prevented her from outright qualification to the WTA Finals, leaving fellow power players like champion Caroline Garcia and runner-up Aryna Sabalenka to have things all their own way on Fort Worth’s slow hard courts.
The 2023 Australian Open, then, has become an opportunity to combine two of her biggest strengths: her effortless hard-court prowess, and her ability to play steady aggression in high-pressure situations. She all but bulldozed through the first week, shaking off a second-set hiccup against 2022 finalist Danielle Collins to book an anticipated Rod Laver Area date with world No. 1 Iga Swiatek.
Up against the story of the 2022 season, Rybakina rendered Swiatek old news as she hit through the Pole’s hitherto impenetrable athleticism—arguably handing the top seed her most comprehensive defeat since last summer.
You never know if you wake up in the morning with one kind of weather, it can change in a few hours, so you always have to be ready. That’s the beauty of this sport: everyone has to adapt. Elena Rybakina
Quarterfinal opponent Ostapenko ostensibly promised to match Rybakina’s firepower, putting on a similarly emphatic display against Coco Gauff to earn her best Grand Slam result since 2018, when she reached the Wimbledon semifinals.
But where the Latvian’s awesome power can be hindered by spotty technique and shot selection, Rybakina faces no such hitches to any aspect of her pristine game—nor does she outwardly deal with any of the emotional hurdles that make Ostapenko so fun and frustrating to watch.
For Ostapenko was not only up against Rybakina on Tuesday afternoon: she had to face her old nemesis, the electronic line-calling system. The sport at large may laud the innovation’s overdue arrival onto the Grand Slam stage, but the former world No. 5 prefers to still play the guessing game, where everyone—from the umpire to those comprising her team—is queried as to the veracity of an otherwise unimpeachable call.
As is her way, Rybakina made no acknowledgement of the colorful show happening across the net, nor did she suffer any disruption to her momentum after a lengthy rain delay saw the opening set frozen on break point for the No. 22 seed in the fifth game. She returned to court and broke the Latvian three points later and never looked back, sweeping the opening set behind 12 winners to nine unforced errors.
“The conditions were different, but in the end, we expect that it can happen in Australia. You never know if you wake up in the morning with one kind of weather, it can change in a few hours, so you always have to be ready. That’s the beauty of this sport: everyone has to adapt, and I think really well from the beginning of the match and that continued in the first set.”
Ostapenko made a stronger push in the second, repeatedly threatening to break Rybakina in a marathon fourth game; Rybakina calmly saved four break points and swiftly scored a break of her own, ultimately serving out the 79-minute win with an 11th ace and total of 24 winners.
Two wins away from a second Grand Slam title, in-form rivals like Sabalenka, Donna Vekic, and Jessica Pegula all remain, but the question of how to beat Elena Rybakina when she’s playing such effortless aggression still remains. The answer may come down to Rybakina herself, but at this point, she appears unlikely to share it.