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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Tuesday March 28, 2023

Elena Rybakina

Three months into the 2023 season the jury is no longer out on Elena Rybakina - she's the real deal and her results back that up.

Photo: Getty

When she won Wimbledon in 2022, and in the weeks and months that followed, not many people were penciling Elena Rybakina as a future No.1.

Tennis Express

There are a few reasons for that.

One is the No.1. A lot has to do with the fact that as of last April Iga Swiatek had taken over the reins from Ashleigh Barty and begun to dominate the sport. Yes, Rybakina emerged at Wimbledon, when Swiatek faltered, but not many imagined that she’d be able to have success against the Polish juggernaut away from the grass, especially on the clay, but even on hard courts.

Rybakina has changed that perception in a big way however, thanks to her 6-4, 6-4 triumph over Swiatek in the round of 16 at the Australian Open, and a 6-2, 6-2 beatdown of the Pole in the semis at Indian Wells. The takeaway? Maybe Rybakina has a lot more staying power than we first imagined.

The second reason being Rybakina's ranking, of course, which still isn’t as high as it deserves to be, due to the fact that the 23-year-old received zero of the 2,000 points she earned for thundering through the Wimbledon draw last year. With those 2,000 points in tow, Rybakina would already be fourth in the WTA rankings.

She could move to six next week with a Miami title – but let’s face it: Top 5 just hits harder.

No matter, though, because the world has now had time to fully embrace the game and potential of Rybakina, and it no longer sounds like a stretch to talk about her in the same breath as Swiatek and Sabalenka. She’s just THAT GOOD.

And getting better...

After storming to the Indian Wells title Rybakina has shown a new dimension of her tennis: resilience. She’s battling fatigue, different conditions, and crazy expectations, and handling them all with a quiet ease. She admits that she’s not quite feeling as fresh as she was two weeks ago, and that is the thing that is making Rybakina’s run to the semifinals, and quest for the Sunshine Double, all the more impressive.

“I would say that of course maybe I'm moving not as good as I was moving in Indian Wells, but overall I think that I'm trying to keep that level from Indian Wells,” she said on Tuesday after firing past Martina Trevisan 6-3, 6-0. “There are a lot of ups-and-downs, but I think overall it's not bad.”

Another key ingredient is Rybakina’s ability to brush off the pressure. She’s not playing like a woman who is afraid of losing – she’s grip-and-rip, gun-and-go to the bitter end. She may be quiet as a mouse on court, but rest assured, Rybakina is no shrinking violet.

“I don't have any pressure,” she said of the quest for the Sunshine Double, a feat only achieved by four other women in WTA history. “I know that it's very difficult and not many players did. Plus I was match point down the other match (against Paula Badosa), so I really don't think so far in the draw.

“I just need to focus match by match, and I have tough opponents. So I think that it doesn't really matter. Of course it would be amazing to achieve something like that, but it's still far away.”

No matter how it turns out, Rybakina has already demonstrated fortitude and stamina that we didn’t know we had this week in Miami. She’s taken huge steps in 2023, and we now know that her ceiling may be higher than we first suspected.

“It's not only physically but also kind of like experience, because even being not fresh, you still need to push yourself to find these moments in the match where it can turn around, which is not easy to always to do, but I think for now I'm managing,” she said, adding: “I think it's just important to find these moments and to push, and for now is doing well even being not super fresh.”


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