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Rybakina bends, but doesn’t break against Pliskova

  • Ravi Ubha

Australian Open 2024 produced a trio of blockbuster first-round matches in the women’s draw.

MORE: AO 2024 women's singles draw

Two had already been completed by the time Elena Rybakina and Karolina Pliskova took to court at Rod Laver Arena in Tuesday’s night session, with Iga Swiatek and Caroline Garcia downing recent Australian Open winners Sofia Kenin and Naomi Osaka, respectively, in straight sets.

MORE: All the scores from Day 3 at AO 2024

Like Swiatek and Garcia in those outings, Rybakina owned the better ranking against Pliskova.

The 2022 Wimbledon champion and last year’s finalist at Melbourne Park ensured the same outcome, but not before escaping the first set on the way to a 7-6(6) 6-4 win. 

“It was a really tough match for me,” Rybakina said on court.

“She played really well. It was not easy at all, especially a first round like this. But really happy I managed to win and survive the first (set).

“In the second, it was a bit better.”

Rybakina regrouped after a slow start to defeat a difficult opponent

Indeed, it is only Day 3 of AO 2024, but the tiebreak will go down as one of the best of the fortnight.

Pliskova is a former world No.1 and two-time Grand Slam finalist, yet her ranking has slipped to 38 and the Czech had never bagged a set against Rybakina in their three previous duels.

She thus realistically needed the first set more than her in-form Kazakh opponent.

And when the 31-year-old saved three set points at 5-6 on serve – one came via an ace while Rybakina missed a backhand down the line by a whisker – the momentum seemed to swing in her favour.

That came after Pliskova started the contest by winning the first eight points to lead 2-0, thanks to six unforced errors from Rybakina. Rybakina later responded by claiming nine straight points as things got back on serve. 

Pliskova's power initially had Rybakina on the back foot

The ace leader for years on the women’s tour, Pliskova uncorked her first two in that 12th game and one more in the tiebreak.

She led 3-0, and increased the advantage to 6-3 for three set points of her own.

Rybakina’s scrambling – not her power hitting – kept the set going. It appeared as if Pliskova’s net-cord would be enough to clinch the opener, but Rybakina raced up and angled a backhand winner. 

Pliskova miscued on the second set point and good fortune went Rybakina’s way on the third. An inside-out forehand might not have been struck as cleanly as the 24-year-old would have hoped – but it caught a smidgeon of the line.

The onlookers at Rod Laver Arena gasped. Pliskova rued her luck.

Rybakina’s thundered serve and Pliskova’s forehand long on the run accounted for the set and realistically, the entire match. 

Rybakina duly broke early in the second and rode her serve, only dropping five points behind it in the second.

Showing finesse at the net, she also authored a stunning drop volley in the penultimate game.

Pliskova thwarted Rybakina on three match points – she famously saved four against Serena Williams in 2019 at Melbourne Park – but could not save the fourth. 

The last time Rybakina featured at the Australian Open’s biggest arena, she collected the runner-up trophy following a high quality finale last January against Aryna Sabalenka.

“It’s amazing to be back,” said Rybakina, who next plays Anna Blinkova.

“No matter of the result of last year I’m super happy to be back. It was very positive for me, even though I lost in the final. I just want to enjoy here and go as far as I can.”

She opted for a similar build-up to this Australian Open, competing at two events again – only one of her fellow top-10 members, Jelena Ostapenko, did the same.

Rybakina triumphed in Brisbane by beating Sabalenka and only conceded 15 games overall. 

Tuesday night was a promising start against a difficult opponent.