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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Wednesday, February 21, 2024


Elena Rybakina ripped 60 winners fighting off Magdalena Frech 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-4, to reach her fifth quarterfinal of the season in Dubai.

Photo credit: Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open Facebook

Superstition isn’t part of Elena Rybakina’s all-court arsenal, but she cops to a compulsion.

Winning is addictive and Rybakina is hopelessly hooked.

More: Delray Beach Final Photo Gallery By Matthew Calvis

A resolute Rybakina fought off qualifier Magdalena Frech 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-4 to reach her fifth quarterfinal of the season today at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

A match of momentum shifts saw Frech serve for the first set at 5-4 and Rybakina blast her biggest serves in the last set. Rybakina hit five of her 13 aces and won 13 of 14 first-serve points in the decider when she reeled off the final nine points in a row on serve scoring a two hour, 39-minute triumph.

“It was a really tough match from the beginning,” Rybakina said. “I still didn’t get used to the conditions, still a lot of mistakes, some troubles.

“But I’m really happy that I managed to survive this match, to win it, but it was a really tough one.”

Navigating ups and downs, Rybakina scored her Tour-best 17th victory reaching her fifth quarterfinal in six tournament starts in 2024.

Even when her best tennis eludes her, Rybakina reinforces the fundamental truth: The match is almost always on her racquet against almost anyone.

Today, Rybakina ripped 60 winners—tripling Frech’s winner total—but also scattered 57 unforced errors.

Still, you see the evolution in Rybakina’s game in that when her baseline drives are missing, she can close moving forward. Today, Rybakina won 21 of 33 trips to net and earned match points with a key forehand volley down the line.

“Of course it’s a great start, but it’s not easy,” Rybakina said. “It’s most important to stay healthy and now with every match it’s getting tougher and tougher physically.

“But I’m really happy with the start of the year and hopefully I can just continue like this.”

The 6-foot Rybakina will face 5’4” Jasmine Paolini for a semifinal spot in a clash one of one of the tallest and shortest players in the Top 30.

Don’t let the size disparity fool you though, Paolini prevailed in their last clash.

The Italian was down 4-6, 5-2 when Rybakina retired from the Cincinnati round of 16 last August. Rybakina dispatched Paolini 7-6(4), 6-1 in Rome last May in their only other meeting.

Armed with an ignominious 0-11 lifetime record vs. Top 10 opponents, a fearless Frech fought hard and pushed Rybakina to the very end.

The 2022 Wimbledon champion won exactly five more points (108 to 103) in improving to 5-1 in three-setters this season and 50-40 going the distance in her career.

It was a good day for qualifiers.

World No. 40 Anna Kalinskaya toppled ninth-seeded Jelena Ostapenko 6-4, 7-5 to charge into her first quarterfinal since she made the last eight at the Australian Open.

Qualifier Kalinskaya awaits US Open champion Coco Gauff or former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals.

Though she failed to serve out the opening set, Frech regrouped and controlled the second set. Frech won 12 of the first 15 points charging out to a 3-0 lead in the second set.

Frech played a much cleaner second set smacking 12 winners against just 2 unforced errors, while Rybakina hit 15 winners and 16 unforced errors.

Departing the court to regroup after the 43-minute second set, Rybakina returned playing with a bit more precision.

The Brisbane champion stamped a two-ace game, holding for a 3-2 lead in the decider.

When Rybakina is landing her first serve with regularity she can rip through first-strike points with command. Rybakina rolled a pair of crosscourt forehand winners to seal a love hold for 4-3. It was her first shutout hold since 3-2 of the first set.

Opening the eighth game with her first double fault of the day, Frech was deadlocked 30-all when she missed her first serve. That gave Rybakina a chance to pounce on a second-serve return, step into the court and lash her two-hander crosscourt for a break point. Frech saved it.

The qualifier showed grit firing a forehand winner down the line to save a second break point at the two hour, 31-minute mark. Kicking the wide serve, Frech danced around her backhand and spun a forehand down the line leveling 4-all.

Showing no signs of stress, Rybakina scalded her 13th ace off the center stripe, capping a second consecutive love hold for 5-4.

Stepping into the court, Rybakina banged a backhand down the line for 15-30 then attacked behind a crosscourt forehand, snapping off a forehand volley for double match point.

The fourth seed narrowly missed a forehand return crosscourt on match point No.1.

On her second match point, Rybakina pinned Frech behind the baseline forcing the floated error to fight into her fifth quarterfinal of the season.

Of course the flip side of winning so often is you play quite a lot of tennis. Will fatigue be a factor for Rybakina, who is chasing her third title of the season?

“There is no secret, [I’m] just trying to push myself every point,” Rybakina said. “Nothing you can really do when you play so much. I think it’s a good problem to have.”

Wimbledon winner Marketa Vondrousova swept 12th-seeded Liudmila Samsonova 6-2, 6-2. Vondrousova broke serve five times exploiting Samsonova serving just 39 percent in the 75-minute match.

The seventh-seeded Vondrousova will face either Donna Vekic or Miami Open semifinalist Sorana Cirstea for a semifinal spot.

Italian Jasmine Paolini continued her strong surge through the Dubai draw.

World No. 26 Paolini converted six of seven break points beating Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-2.

Despite serving just 48 percent, Paolini protected her second serve with vigilance, winning 11 of 14 second-serve points.

Tennis Express

It was the 10th career Top 20 win for Paolini, who upset No. 14 Beatriz Haddad Maia 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 in her opener then beat former US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez in round two.

Meanwhile former world No. 3 Sakkari, who split with coach of six years Tom Hill last week, fell to 5-4 in 2024 and will try to jump-start her season at the Sunshine Double.


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