Thanks for visiting the Australian Open Website. We can see you’re using Internet Explorer, and wanted to let you know that we will no longer be supporting this browser in future. We’d recommend you download a new browser if you'd like to continue keeping up with all of the latest tennis news!

Rybakina rising with latest big triumph

  • Matt Trollope

Elena Rybakina may have been bitterly disappointed to lose a thrilling Australian Open 2023 final to Aryna Sabalenka.

But she was not discouraged by the loss.

Less than two months later, she scored the second biggest title of her blossoming career at Indian Wells by flipping that result, in what was another compelling brawl against Sabalenka.

In a final during which both made the slow, gritty hard court appear significantly faster as they exchanged powerful strikes, Rybakina saved two set points before completing a 7-6(11) 6-4 triumph.

It was a victory aided by lessons learned from her loss at Melbourne Park in January. 





Grand Slam

Wimbledon (2022)

WTA 1000

Indian Wells (2023)

WTA 500


WTA 250

Bucharest (2019), Hobart (2020)


“On the second serve, I just tried to push more, because I remember since Australia she was putting a lot of pressure on the second serve. So this is something for me to improve also,” Rybakina said. 

“I think here, since the conditions a bit slower, it was kind of easier to play the next shot.

“It was different, especially this first set, because she did couple of double faults, which gave me an advantage… in Australia she served really well. The second serve was, I think, same speed as the first one. So kind of really aggressive."

The win boosted her to a career-high ranking of world No.7 and into second position in the WTA Race to the Finals, behind first-placed Sabalenka.

Rivalry developing

The Indian Wells final pitted the reigning Wimbledon champion (Rybakina) against the reigning Australian Open champion (Sabalenka), and everybody was tuning in.

“These two have picked up where they left off in Melbourne,” tweeted WTA legend Pam Shriver during the first set. “Rivalries are truly born only when players play well [contesting] big time finals in [the] same calendar year.”

Indeed, the two biggest finals so far in 2023 – the Australian Open and Indian Wells – have featured the same two players, for just the third time ever and first since 2012.

It marks the first time – dating back to the first Indian Wells women’s tournament in 1989 – in which the Australian Open runner-up avenged their defeat.




Indian Wells final

AO final


Lindsay Davenport d Martina Hingis

Davenport d Hingis


Victoria Azarenka d Maria Sharapova

Azarenka d Sharapova


Elena Rybakina d Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka d Rybakina


Although Sabalenka owned a 4-0 record over Rybakina entering this Indian Wells final, all four wins had come in dramatic three-set matches.

Rybakina knew she was close, and Simon Rea of Tennis Australia’s Game Insight Group discussed how she was able to tilt the match-up in her favour in the Californian desert.

“Sabalenka coughed up 17 double faults in that Australian Open final, and we're all kind of surprised to think back at that number being so high. But 10 in the first set of this Indian Wells final is a bit of a different ball game,” Rea said on the latest episode of The AO Show podcast.

“And it was certainly a different ball game in terms of how she handled that emotionally. And you saw, I think, quite a rocked Aryna Sabalenka come out early stages of set two, unable perhaps to park that emotional baggage. 

"How much of that is due to the Rybakina game, with no easily identifiable weaknesses? I think plenty of it. [Rybakina] is rock-solid, and I reckon she'd made more of a plan, or more of an intent: hey, I'm going to return aggressively in this match, and Aryna, you're not going to push me back this time.”

LISTEN: The AO Show podcast

Rea identified this consistency especially in Rybakina’s return performance. 

In the Australian Open final, her percentage of second-serve return points won decreased from 67 per cent (set one) to 36 per cent (set two) and never returned to first-set levels. 

At Indian Wells, it was 67 per cent across both sets, even with Sabalenka remaining double-fault free in the second set.

"I think there was a steely resolve in the eyes of Rybakina in this match,” Rea said.

“We know Aryna's a little more volatile and capable of throwing in some more double faults; by contrast, Rybakina was rock-solid emotionally and tactically throughout the contest. And I think that was the decisive factor.

“There was no fluctuation from Elena Rybakina in the final at Indian Wells.”

Rybakina’s elite level

Dating back to her Wimbledon title, Rybakina has won 35 of her most recent 48 matches, at a success rate of 73 per cent.

That has risen to 80 per cent in 2023; she is 16-4 and riding an eight-match winning streak.

Observing Rybakina’s performance data throughout AO 2023, Rea noted she possessed few weaknesses for opponents to target.

She was the tournament’s premier server, produced one of the biggest forehands among the field, and also belted her backhand significantly faster than the women’s average.




WTA average



1st serve speed

160.6 kph

182.8 kph

#1 for women at AO 2023

Forehand speed

115.1 kph

122 kph


Hunting 3rd shot FH



Among top 10 women at AO 23

Avg. FH heaviness



Among top 10 women at AO 23

Backhand speed

110.5 kph

115.1 kph




“[For opponents] it's that notion of, well, where's your respite coming from? Where's your breathing space?” Rea said. 

Rybakina beat Sofia Kenin, Paula Badosa and Karolina Muchova en route to the Indian Wells semifinals. She then became the first woman in almost six years to defeat the No.1 and No.2 ranked players in the semifinals and finals to win a tournament.

Her semifinal triumph over defending champion Iga Swiatek was a repeat of her straight-sets upset of the world No.1 in the fourth round at AO 2023.

Many predicted Swiatek would reverse that result; her form had improved since January and the slower court was supposed to work to her advantage.

Yet Rybakina won even more dominantly, allowing the Pole just four games. 

Raising the bar

Tennis coach and analyst Rennae Stubbs noted the role Rybakina’s physical trainer, Azuz Simcich, had played in the Kazakh’s improvement. 

According to Stubbs, Simcich – who worked with Karolina Pliskova when Stubbs was coaching the Czech – was a “great guy” who had previously trained similarly tall, lean players. 

“I think he’s improved her movement so much out of the corners of the court… it’s something he said they’ve worked really hard on, and you can see it,” Stubbs commented on her podcast.

“The movement aspect of her tennis has improved so much in a year.”

Rybakina’s rise, as well as Sabalenka’s emergence as a Grand Slam champion and consistent threat, has led to a shift in the tenor at the top of the women’s game. Some observers have even suggested it could be the early makings of the WTA’s own “Big Three”.

Elena Rybakina (centre) and Aryna Sabalenka (right) share a light moment during the trophy presentation following the 2023 Indian Wells women's singles final. (Getty Images)

In 2022, Swiatek was an utterly dominant force, ending the season with more than twice the number of ranking points as second-ranked Ons Jabeur.

But it’s a different – and arguably more compelling – story in 2023. 

"I think it's fascinating,” Rea said. 

“If we hark back 12 months, Swiatek was at the start of that phenomenal [37-match unbeaten] run. 

“What we've seen in Sabalenka and Rybakina is that they've gotten better over the last 12 months. And if not totally bridged the gap, they've certainly narrowed it. In certain circumstances, well, it was dominant the other day [with] Rybakina over Swiatek. 

“We were used to Swiatek's defence getting it done against these types of ball strikers and this type of weaponry coming at her, but not at the moment. 

“So now the ball's back in Iga's court, if you like. She's got to go away and recover some of that momentum.”