Facebook Social Button Twitter Social Button Follow Us on InstagramYouTube Social Button
NewsScoresRankingsLucky Letcord PodcastShopPro GearPickleballGear Sale

By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Thursday, March 28, 2024


Elena Rybakina repelled Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 0-6, 7-6(2)—her fourth three-set win of the tournament—to reach her second straight Miami final.

Photo credit: Miami Open/Hard Rock Stadium

Long-distance duels don’t faze Elena Rybakina.

Pushed to the limit in a topsy-turvy test today, Rybakina delivered convincing closing kick.

More: Djokovic and Coach Ivanisevic Split

A resilient Rybakina charged through 11 of the final 13 points edging Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 0-6, 7-6(2) to reach her second straight Miami Open final.

The fourth-seeded Rybakina scored her fourth three-set win of the tournament to reach her fourth final of the season.

Showing her toughness, Rybakina raised her record to 22-3 in 2024, including a 9-1 mark in three-setters.

Though the stoic Rybakina looked locked in throughout the last game and the tiebreaker, she conceded she was drained.

“I think just the humidity and conditions here are really tough and physically I am not my best so of course it was really difficult for me just to stay out here,” Rybakina told Tennis Channel’s Prakash Amritraj afterward. “It’s not easy to play. I just took some break, I changed and I was just fighting for every point.

“I knew it was going to be a battle. She’s not going to give up—me neither—so we ended up 7-6 in the third.”

The victory vaults Rybakina, who was runner-up to Petra Kvitova in the 2023 final, into Saturday’s 3 p.m. title match.

Rybakina will face either 53rd-ranked Floridian and home hero Danielle Collins or red-hot world No. 16 Ekaterina Alexandrova, who has toppled world No. 1 Iga Swiatek and world No. 5 Jessica Pegula en route to her first Miami semifinal.

"I know that they both playing really well now this tournament and both very aggressive, so there is no really long rallies," Rybakina said of the final. "For this kind of game, I need to be prepared physically, to also push myself, have a good serve.

"First few balls I need to be very fast, which, I mean, is going to be for sure difficult for me physically, but we see who is going to win in the end, and I will try to prepare and do my best in final, of course."

Illness and injury sometimes raise skepticism about Rybakina’s stamina—and those whispers likely grew louder when Azarenka dished out a second-set bagel bursting through seven straight games today.

Serving for the match at 5-4, Rybakina was two points from the final only to see a feisty Azarenka break back.

Three-time Miami Open champion Azarenka had all the momentum. Rybakina resolved to let it rip—and was rewarded for courageously laying it all on the line.

“Every match here was really tough for me—with Maria [Sakkari] same situation: early break and I was serving,” Rybakina said. “Here with Vika I know sometimes it doesn’t go, also she was returning pretty well. She was reading the serve so it’s not easy.

“After that game I knew I had to keep fighting and in the tiebreaker I just decided to go for it no matter what. The serve all of a sudden the percentage went up it really went my way and I was just going for it at the end.”

It’s an emotionally-draining defeat for the 34-year-old Azarenka.

The second oldest semifinalist in tournament history dominated the middle of the match with a vintage Vika performance that saw her deconstruct the bigger-hitting Rybakina. Azarenka won seven more points (95 to 88), but a resolute Rybakina raised her game in the breaker denying the Belarusian her 200th WTA 1000-level win.

Ultimately, Rybakina’s first-serve and first-strike were the key strokes: She served 59 percent, smacked 11 aces and won 40 of 49 first-serve points.

Don’t let her quiet disposition fool you: Rybakina is one of the Tour’s most explosive players. She showed it staring down double break point at 2-3.

Rocketing three successive aces, including a 115 mph blast hit so hard it left stray strands of felt on the line, Rybakina slammed shut the uprising to level after six games.

That stand sparked Rybakina, who won a crosscourt forehand exchange then exploited an Azarenka double fault for a second break point. Azarenka flattened a drive into net as Rybakina drew first-break blood, 4-3.

Navigating a tense eighth game, Rybakina ripped her seventh ace out wide to deny a third break point. Stepping up to the baseline, Rybakina slid a backhand strike down the line dampening danger for a 5-3 lead.

Fifty minutes into the match, Rybakina threw down a love hold sealing a set that saw her win 17 of 19 first-serve points.

Knowing she needed to change it up, Azarenka was driving her forehand flatter, sometimes playing right into the 6’ Rybakina’s right hip to jam her up.

A precise Azarenka streaked through 16 consecutive points picking apart the Wimbledon winner’s forehand wing in stamping three straight shutout games rolling to a 5-0 lead and a love-30 lead on the Kazakh’s serve.

A reeling Rybakina resorted to the drop shot to stop her slide of 16 points.

That was a brief reprieve. Staring down set point, Rybakina again hit a dropper that sat up. Azarenka swooped in and spun a forehand pass down the line baking up the bagel to force a final set after 88 minutes of play.

After about a nine-minute bathroom break delay, play resumed with Azarenka holding to take her seventh straight game.

Rybakina, who was 0 for 7 on second serve points in the second set, held to level the final set—her first game since she served out the opener.

Tenacity is an Azarenka asset. She showed it fending off four break points in the fifth game, including cranking an ace and carving out a drop shot. By then, the Belarusian had saved nine of 10 break points.

Undeterred, Rybakina roped a backhand pass crosscourt for a fifth break point. When Azarenka netted a drive, Rybakina had the crucial break and a 3-2 lead.

Still, Azarenka wasn’t done yet.

When Rybakina served for the final, she was two points from victory, but could not close. Azarenka amped up her aggression and forced the fourth seed into an awkward netted backhand volley to break back and level after 10 games.

While that setback might unsettle many players, Rybakina rarely shows any tension. The Brisbane champion blasted her way through the finish line with calm.

Resetting, Rybakina stamped a love hold to force the final tiebreaker.

Reaching up on serve, Rybakina lasered her 11th ace for a 3-0 lead in the breaker.

Showing no signs of stress, Rybakina drew a backhand error for another mini break then pounded down her favorite wide serve on the ad side for 5-1.

On her second match point, Rybakina roped a crosscourt forehand wrapping a two hour, 33-minute triumph to reach her second straight Miami Open final.

A silent presence between points, Rybakina was commanding when it mattered most. 

The quiet killer instinct is Rybakina's character—remember when she won the 2022 Wimbledon crown there were no histrionics or even a victory scream—though she says she's aiming to bring more positive energy to matches.

"I think it's just the character, but also if sometimes you can notice that I'm also negative. Of course I need to maybe bring more positive energy and to show the opponent," Rybakina said. "But I think this tournament, as I said, it's just such difficult for me physically that the only thing I was thinking not to be negative, because first matches I was a little bit.

"Now I knew that I cannot lose energy on these kind of things. I was just trying to keep calm and just focus on every point, because I knew that's the only way to get through this."


Latest News