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Five reasons why Elena Rybakina is ready to win her first AO

  • Matt Trollope

Entrenched in the world's top five, Elena Rybakina has one of the most potent games on tour, a track record of winning the game’s biggest titles, and a calm, confident demeanour.

She fell just short of scooping the title at AO 2023 and it would come as no surprise if she went one better and hoisted the trophy in 2024.

We examine five reasons why she might do so at Melbourne Park.

She’s already a Grand Slam champion

By winning Wimbledon in 2022, Rybakina will play out the rest of her career knowing she has what it takes to succeed on the game’s grandest stages.

She’s banked the experience of navigating a two-week tournament, knows how it feels to enter a huge court for the biggest match of her life, and possesses the temperament to handle the occasion.

Rybakina overpowered an impressive line-up of opponents at Wimbledon – Bianca Andreescu, Zheng Qinwen, Simona Halep and Ons Jabeur among them – to win her first major.

Elena Rybakina won her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2022. [Getty Images]

She met, and conquered, an even tougher succession of players six months later.

“For me this time I would say it was a bit easier also compared to Wimbledon when I was playing for the first time quarters, semis, final,” Rybakina said after beating Danielle Collins, Iga Swiatek, Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka to reach the AO 2023 final.

“I think because I knew what to expect. Everything was new at Wimbledon. But this time I think I was focusing more on the match, what I have to do, and maybe not to think what's going to come or what's going to happen around and so on.”

She’s come so close in Melbourne

Rybakina’s run to the AO final was spectacular, given Collins was the 2022 finalist, Swiatek the dominant world No.1, and Ostapenko and Azarenka also both major champions.

She was ultimately stopped by Aryna Sabalenka, but not before an exceptional contest that will live on as one of the great finals at Melbourne Park.

Who knows what might have unfolded had Rybakina converted break point in the final game to level the third set at 5-5?

What we do know is she will return in 2024 especially motivated to hunt down a title she came tantalisingly close to claiming 12 months earlier.

RELATED: Rybakina finds positives from defeat in "very powerful" decider

“I have more confidence of course even after this final,” she declared.

“I just need to work hard, same as I did during pre-season and actually throughout the years, be healthy, and for sure the results are going to come.”

Australia is a happy hunting ground

Another strong performance at the Australian Open would continue Rybakina’s trend of success Down Under.

One of her earliest titles came at the Hobart International in 2020; the following week she won her first Grand Slam main-draw matches at AO 2020 to reach the third round. In 2022, she was a finalist at the Adelaide International.

With her AO 2023 final, she has won 21 of her past 29 matches on Australian soil.

She defied a trend

Women’s major champions have recently struggled to use their breakthrough Grand Slam victory as a springboard to more success.

Yet Rybakina experienced little back-slide after winning Wimbledon in 2022 – in fact, she performed even better in 2023.

That Wimbledon came with no ranking points for players, meaning she entered AO 2023 at world No.25. Her performance there propelled her inside the top 10.

WTA 1000 trophies followed at Indian Wells and Rome; by May, Rybakina held three of the game’s biggest titles on three different surfaces. She was just one match-win away from completing the ‘Sunshine Double’ – Indian Wells and Miami titles back-to-back.

In June, she peaked at world No.3, then advanced to the quarterfinals in her Wimbledon title defence, and concluded the season at No.4.

Her serve is key

Rybakina’s serve is the foundation for her success, and it was a weapon at Australian Open 2023.

Her 54 aces were a women’s tournament high, as was her top serve speed of 195km/h, putting her equal first with Coco Gauff. 

STATS: Australian Open 2023

She ended 2023 with 455 aces, averaging more than 7.5 aces per match. And while she seemed to struggle with a shoulder niggle in the second half of the year, the off-season will have come at the perfect time to rest and regenerate.

This fearsome delivery allowed her to get on top of many points and unleash her other big weapons – especially her forehand

Should conditions be warm, quick and lively at AO 2024 – as they often are during summer at Melbourne Park – then the courts will likely reward Rybakina’s weapons.

And that could make her almost unstoppable.