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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, March 16, 2023


Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina rapped 44 winners topping Karolina Muchova 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-4 to advance to her first Indian Wells semifinal.

Photo credit: Matthew Stockman/Getty

Serving power is a damaging weapon of WTA ace leader Elena Rybakina.

Staying power proved pivotal for the Wimbledon winner today.

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Pushed to a third set for the first time in this BNP Paribas Open, a resilient Rybakina edged crafty Karolina Muchova 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-4 to advance to her first Indian Wells semifinal.

On her third match point, Rybakina slashed her sixth ace down the middle punctuating a gripping two hour, 45-minute duel with declarative exclamation.

"It was really a tough match today. I'm just happy I managed to win in the third and serve it out," Rybakina told Andrew Krasny in her on-court interview. "Yeah, it was really tough today. I served much better in the third.

"I didn't start that well in the beginning of the match. I was just a bit slower than usual and here the conditions are not that easy for me. Overall it was not the best start and Karolina, she played really well, and in the end in important moments I played well."

Rybakina raised her 2023 record to 14-4 reaching her first semifinal since she was runner-up to Aryna Sabalenka at the Australian Open in January.

The 23-year-old Rybakina will play for a spot in her 12th career final against world No. 1 and reigning champion Iga Swiatek in a blockbuster clash of Grand Slam champions.

Three-time major champion Swiatek swept 83rd-ranked Romanian veteran Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-3, to score her 10th straight Indian Wells victory and improve her 2023 record to 16-3.

One of those three losses came to Rybakina, who knocked the US Open champion out of the Australian Open 6-4, 6-4 in January. 

The 2021 Indian Wells doubles runner-up partnering Veronika Kudermetova, Rybakina is playing for a spot in her first final on North American soil.

Tennis Express

Though the gritty stadium 1 court can make it challenging to finish points, Rybakina possesses such easy natural power she'd hit her fair share of winners playing on mud.

Showing the conviction to continue to attack her shots, Rybakina hit 44 winners against 23 unforced errors, while Muchova, who played periods of proactive all-court tennis, hit 23 winners and competed with tenacity saving 12 of 14 break points.

Struggling to make any impression on Muchova's serve in the second set, Rybakina was ripping the ball with more authority in the decider.

The 10th seeded Kazakh won nearly half of Muchova's second serve points—9 of 19—and earned seven break points in the final set today.

Wearing taping around both legs, including heavy white adhesive taping around her left thigh, Muchova couldn't find her first serve but still dug in to fend off double break point holding in her opening service game.

Serving for the set at 5-4, Muchova saved a break point when a Rybakina pass caught the tape allowing the Czech to knock off a forehand.

On set point, Muchova unleashed the surprise serve-and-volley eliciting the floating return she wanted. But the 2021 Australian Open semifinalist badly botched a flying smash sailing it.

Staying the course, Rybakina flicked a stab volley for a second break point of the game and sixth break point of the set. Flicking a forehand pass, Rybakina broke to even after 10 games.

The Australian Open finalist raced through a love hold for 6-5 shifting pressure right back on Muchova.

Serving at 5-6, Muchova stared down a set point when Rybakina, showing the Czech little respect on first serve, tried to step in but netted a return. Muchova tamed trouble holding to force the tiebreaker.

Neither woman could create much separation in the tiebreaker until Rybakina, swinging with even more vigor, lifted her level to take charge.

Pounding a perfect backhand winner down the line leveled the breaker then Rybakina roped a bounce smash for 5-4.

While the Wimbledon winner is known for her jolting offense, she used a fine defensive get to extend the point, coaxing Muchova into a floating forehand miss to gift the Kazakh a second set point.

A crackling set came to a quiet end as Muchova, who had battled so hard, muffed her fourth double fault to end a tense 7-6 set in 76 minutes.

Sharpening her strikes as the set progressed, Rybakina won 13 of 21 points played on Muchova's second serve in the set.

The world No. 76 shrugged off the near miss, scoring the early break again for a 2-0 second-set advantage. Muchova tore through eight straight service points stretching her lead to 3-0.

Wrenching control of the set, Muchova never let it go. Dancing around her backhand, Muchova flashed an inside-out forehand for a break and set point. When Rybakina's backhand down the line strayed, Muchova had her third break of the day to snatch the second set and force a decider.

Snapping her first serve with authority, Muchova won 16 of 19 service points in the second set.

Long distance runs are business as usual for Muchova this week. The woman in the pale pink top was going the distance for the fourth time in five Indian Wells matches.

An unsettling factor facing Rybakina: she seldom reveals too much emotion.

The woman in the vanilla visor earned triple break point in the third game of set three. Muchova hit her sixth double fault to donate the break and a 2-1 third-set lead.

The woman who began her junior career at the famed Spartak Club in Moscow isn't quite as quick around the court as Muchova. But Rybakina's footwork was precise, and she was straddling the baseline getting her body behind her drives as she gained a break point in the seventh game. Muchova saved it then pushed Rybakina to deuce in the eighth game.

  The stoic expression on Rybakina's face is a visual calm before she unleashes the serving storm. Rybakina pumped an ace out wide holding for 5-3.

Former world No. 19 Muchova erased a pair of match points then slid a flat forehand winner down the line holding with a clenched fist for 4-5. 

Deadlocked at 30-all, Rybakina showed guts going for a big second serve and was rewarded setting up a strike for her third match point. 


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