Sabalenka stops by the TC Desk after her semifinal win

Aryna Sabalenka vs. Elena Rybakina

Anyone watching Friday’s semifinals who wasn’t up to speed on the WTA rankings surely would have thought that Sabalenka and Rybakina were the two best players in the world. Each of them rolled through their opponents, Maria Sakkari and (the actual) world No. 1, Iga Swiatek, by nearly identical scores: 6-2, 6-3 for Sabalenka; 6-2, 6-2 for Rybakina.

And if you just look at the results of the two biggest events of 2023 so far, the Australian Open and the BNP Paribas Open, you would also think that Sabalenka and Rybakina are the top two right now. Six weeks ago in Melbourne, they dueled through an excellent and closely contested final, which Sabalenka won 6-4 in the third set.

That’s exactly how all of the matches between these two have gone. They’ve played four times. Sabalenka has won all four. And they’ve all gone three sets. Is there any reason to think there will finally be a deviation in the pattern on Sunday?

There are good reasons to think not. Sabalenka is 17-1 in 2023. Like Rybakina, she plays a first-strike power game, but she has made it much more consistent over the past six months. I’ve been waiting for her to show flashes of her old erratic and occasionally implosive self this season, but they haven’t come yet.


Sabalenka is seeking her fifth WTA 1000 title; Rybakina her first.

Sabalenka is seeking her fifth WTA 1000 title; Rybakina her first.

There are also good reasons to think Rybakina can snap her losing streak. Yes, she hits a flatter, risker ball than Sabalenka, and she has been more up and down this season. But right now she’s obviously on an upswing, having toughed out a close three-setter over Karolina Muchova, and then driven right through Swiatek (who said afterward that she had “discomfort” in her rib). While Sabalenka is the better baseliner and better athlete, Rybakina holds the trump card with her serve. She knows that shot could determine the outcome.

“I lost the last four times and it was always like three sets,” Rybakina says of her history with Sabalenka. “I think just to play better in these important moments and hold the serve, because I think few times it was just because of one break.”

Before her match with Swiatek, Rybakina said she could win if she “brought my best level.” That’s what happened.

Coming into this final, she said something similar: “There’s moments where you can feel, OK, I can beat anyone if I always play like this.”

I’ll say she’ll stay at that level for one more day.

Winner: Rybakina