The compelling tranquility of Elena RybakinaBy Mar 13, 2023
A mid-career renaissance leaves Donna Vekic feeling ‘better than ever’ in MiamiBy Mar 24, 2023
Can't stop her: Through managing an epileptic seizure disorder, Mika Ikemori earns Divison I tennis scholarshipBy Mar 21, 2023
Alejandro Davidovich Fokina looks to roar back at Indian Wells after overcoming Dubai demonsBy Mar 14, 2023
For the Love of the Game: Barbados' unique passion for road tennisBy Feb 14, 2023
“Teaching happiness”: How raising a successful athlete can mean raising a successful personBy Feb 10, 2023
Serena Williams was "the most impressive athlete" this Super Bowl ad director ever worked withBy Feb 08, 2023
Denis Shapovalov's Texas Two-Step: First, win the Dallas Open. Then, eat and (hopefully) danceBy Feb 07, 2023
Zheng Qinwen sprouts from a family’s big sacrifice—and the little seed Li Na planted in her heartBy Jan 17, 2023
"I'm ready to win an ATP 250": Five Minutes With... Benjamin BonziBy Jan 06, 2023
The compelling tranquility of Elena Rybakina
Off the court, Elena Rybakina finds her thrills on high-flying roller coasters. On it, her unflappable demeanor has contributed to a soaring rise.
Published Mar 13, 2023
WATCH: Before coming to Indian Wells, Elena Rybakina beat Bianca Andreescu in Dubai in a match between Grand Slam champions.
One way Elena Rybakina enjoys herself away from tennis is to ride a rollercoaster.
For lots of people, this is an activity that involves screaming. As for Rybakina, she prefers to laugh. Little seems to derail Rybakina. Even in the wake of having lost the Australian Open final earlier this year, Rybakina Sunday night said, "It was upsetting,” but added that, “It happens. ... So it means that I can do well on every Grand Slam.”
Such is the temperament of the reigning Wimbledon champion, a cucumber-like tranquility that allows her to deliver laser-like serves and one concussive groundstroke after another with pleasing poise and precision.
Like a great many tennis players of all skill levels, the 23-year-old Rybakina’s favorite player growing up was Roger Federer. Speaking to me that evening in a room just off the player’s lounge at the BNP Paribas Open, Rybakina praised Federer’s style, most notably citing his variety. Addressing her own playing style, Rybakina said, “I still need to improve my net game.”
True as that may be, in a number of her matches, Rybakina has shown glimpses of the kind of deft touch at the net Federer himself would appreciate.
And while millions of Federer admirers have simply witnessed his greatness, Rybakina last summer shared extremely rare common ground with the Swiss legend, joining him as a Wimbledon singles champion. Asked how that victory changed her life, Rybakina said, “It’s kind of more obligations, but at the same time more people recognize me, especially in Kazakhstan. So it's really nice. Like kids, when I went back after Wimbledon, kids approaching much more. They're super happy to see me. They want to be like me, so it's nice.”
So what does it take to make Rybakina angry? “Actually, my mood changes very much so. Anything, it just depends.” But not on the court, where Rybakina says she has no intention of ever throwing a racquet. Rybakina also added that, “Maybe sometimes it's not good always to keep everything inside.”
Rybakina’s father Andrey had played tennis, but hardly with the zeal of a tennis parent seeking greatness for his child. In her early years, Rybakina enjoyed ice skating and gymnastics. Andrey first took her to a tennis court when she was six.
“I love tennis,” Rybakina told WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen in a 2020 interview. “It was always a game for me. Even now, I don't think it's a job. It was always a game and if I cannot do something I like to improve it, to fix it. I love everything in tennis.” She also admits to liking just about everything chocolate, ice cream most of all.
Well into her teens, Rybakina was uncertain if she would immediately turn pro or attend college. Andrey favored the latter. “But he saw the results and he loves tennis, so he said OK,” Rybakina told Nguyen. “Then the Kazakhstan federation made me an offer and the decision was easier. I changed my citizenship to Kazakhstan because they believed in me and they offered. I was not so good when they offered. So they believed in me and they're helping me a lot.”
So how do you fluster Rybakina? Ask her what she’d be if not a tennis player. Pausing for a long moment, Rybakina began to laugh and then said, “Too much pressure.”
Of course, in between the lines, Rybakina has validated Billie Jean King’s concept that pressure is a privilege. In all her subdued brilliance, call Rybakina a perfect example of the longstanding concept that metabolism is destiny. As the years continue, it will be interesting to see if she remains as tranquil – and successful – at managing the demands and expectations that accompany her recent wave of success.