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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, January 21, 2023

 
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Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina swept Iga Swiatek 6-4, 6-4—her first win over a world No. 1—to charge into the AO quarterfinals for the first time.

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty

A crackling return rocketed right back at Iga Swiatek's feet leaving her dancing from its damage.

The world No. 1 tried to stay in step, but Elena Rybakina ripped jolting returns to sweep Swiatek right out of the Australian Open.

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Playing with powerful poise, Rybakina stunned the top-seeded Swiatek 6-4, 6-4 to charge into the Australian Open quarterfinals for the first time.

It is Rybakina's first career win over a world No. 1 and marks the first Grand Slam tournament in the Open Era where the top two men's and women's seeds failed to reach the quarterfinals.

"For sure when you play against No. 1, I think you have really nothing to lose," Rybakina said. "I knew that I had to be aggressive from the first ball because she's a great mover, and she defends really well.

"So I was trying to just attack her from the first ball, and it really worked well."



Afterward, Swiatek said Rybakina outplayed her—and suggested she may take a break to reset.

"Well, for sure Elena was the one that was more solid today, and I felt like it was more about who is going to put more pressure on the open end, and she did that pretty well," Swiatek said. "So, yeah, it was just tough. But for sure I need to work on my, I don't know, kind of mindset and fight a little bit more as I did last season. "So, for sure I'm going to take time right now to kind of reset."

No. 22-seeded Rybakina will face former Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko for a semifinal spot.

The 17th-seeded Ostapenko banged 30 winners and saved seven of eight break points conquering Coco Gauff 7-5, 6-3 for her first Melbourne Park quarterfinals. Ostapenko has beaten Rybakina in both prior meetings winning all four sets they've played.

"She hits really hard, and she plays aggressive like me," Rybakina said of Ostapenko. "So for sure I need to be really focused on my serve because today on one [sunny] side I was struggling a bit.

"It's not easy if my weapon is not going. But no matter what, I think it's going to be tough battle like the previous matches. We see how it's going to go."

Exuding easy power and calm confidence, the Wimbledon champion made this 89-minute triumph over the reigning US Open and Roland Garros champion look relatively routine.

The serve and return are the two most important shots in the sport and Rybakina was commanding in both areas using the quicker Rod Laver Arena court to rush Swiatek.

The 6' Rybakina won 80 percent (24 of 30) first-serve points and faced just four break points. Rybakina used her wide wing span to cut off the angles and slam returns down the line. Knowing Swiatek likes to hit her forehand from the backhand corner, Rybakina blasted her backhand down the line at times and generally denied the two-time Roland Garros the rhythm she craves. 

Despite her damaging weapons and almost detached demeanor on court, Rybakina said nerves were churning throughout.

"'I'm nervous every time I go on the court, like every point," Rybakina said. "My coach says I need to show emotion sometimes. I'm also learning. For sure, I'm nervous and it's a big win and I'm just happy to get to another round."

The fact Rybakina showed no visible trace of nerve against a dominant No. 1 who won 47 matches and five titles on hard courts last season had to be unnerving for Swiatek.

Serving for the quarterfinals, Rybakina had a frustrated Swiatek screaming into her hand after failing to fight off a body serve.

On match point, Swiatek didn't move when Rybakina served her wide and rolled a final forehand winner.

The Moscow-born Rybakina showed the world the explosive first-strike tennis she can play winning Wimbledon last July.  

The 23rd-seeded Rybakina rallied past Ons Jabeur 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the Wimbledon final to make history as the first Kazakhstan player to capture a Grand Slam singles championship. She was also the first woman since Amelie Mauresmo in 2006 to win the Wimbledon final after losing the opening set.

Because The Championships were stripped of ranking points by the Tours, Rybakina did not receive the 2,000-ranking points awarded to the Wimbledon winner. Consequently, she's faced far tougher draws as a world No. 22.

You can make a case Rybakina is one of the most overlooked Wimbledon winner in recent years. Case in point: Rybakina was assigned to Court No. 13 in her opening-round AO win last week.

Disrespect of course can fuel champions even more and Rybakina played pivotal points today on her terms.


In an early mis-step, Swiatek squandered a 40-love lead, was victimized by a pair of return winners and dropped serve. Rybakina backed up the break with a two-ace game, including a second-serve kick ace that confounded the top seed so thoroughly she didn't make a play on it.

Serving for the set, Rybakina ripped her fourth ace down the T to seal the 42-minute first set in style. 

The Wimbledon winner won 11 of 14 first-serve points and converted both break points she earned. Swiatek did not play poorly but paid the price for squandering that 40-love lead in the opener.

"For sure I feel like, yeah, her ranking should be better, but we all know what happened in Wimbledon," Swiatek said. "She was just better today, honestly, and she played really solid way. She I think tactically was kind of composed. She's able to stay focused. But, yeah, she was a better player today."

The top seed reset before the second set. Swiatek sustained the depth of her drives and drew the errors breaking for a 2-0 second-set lead.

When crunch time came, Rybakina attacked the ball on her front foot.



Deadlocked at 4-all, Rybakina drove Swiatek back with her return and maintained her depth drawing the error for double break point.  Swiatek responded with a fantastic forehand in the corner to open court and banged a backhand with precision into the opposite corner to save the first break point. 

On the second break point, Rybakina went after a forehand return and narrowly missed it long. 

Credit the flatter-hitting power player for continuing to show the guts to go for it.

Measuring her shot, Rybakina rolled a higher, heavier forehand winner into the corner for a third break point. The rangy Rybakina used her reach to good effect, flicking a backhand return off a challenging serve. Swiatek got the mid-court ball she sought, but played it too flat and found the net. Playing controlled power tennis Rybakina broke for 5-4.

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Serving for the match, Rybakina closed with command.

Festering frustration erupted as Swiatek screamed into her hand after Rybakina jammed a body serve into the Pole's hip. Rybakina slashed her sixth ace for three match points. Opening the court with the wide serve, Rybakina spun a forehand winner that left Swiatek at a standstill to seal a superb performance.

The scary aspect of Rybakina's game: She swings so smoothly and generates such effortless power you get the feeling she can bring even more heat when necessary. 

 

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