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Elena Rybakina confirms rise by beating Aryna Sabalenka to win Indian Wells



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Even after finally breaking through at the top of the sport by winning Wimbledon last summer, Elena Rybakina’s path remained complicated. Her ranking was still low, she faced tough draws and dispiriting court assignments all while trying to come to terms with her new status as a grand slam champion. She struggled to perform.

This season, though, everything is coming together. On Sunday, Rybakina bolstered her status as one of the very best players in the world by winning her first WTA 1000 title in Indian Wells. Two days after she dismantled Iga Swiatek, the world No 1 and defending champion, Rybakina remained composed in the face of suffocating pressure to overcome Aryna Sabalenka 7-6 (11), 6-4.

This marks her fourth career title, her first since Wimbledon, and the Kazakh will rise to a new career high of No 7. It also saw her clear a massive mental hurdle by defeating Sabalenka for the first time in five meetings, quickly avenging her loss in the Australian Open final.

Although it lacked the quality of their spectacular battle in Melbourne, the first set was bruising and nervy in the swirling wind. The tension peaked in an excruciating tiebreak as both struggled to close out the set and Sabalenka’s serve, which has driven her success this year, capitulated. She struck 10 double faults in the set alone, including on her set point, and Rybakina eventually remained solid enough to take advantage. With the first set secured, Rybakina relaxed and eased to victory.

After the many years of unpredictability on the tour followed by Swiatek’s singular dominance last year, the past 10 days in Indian Wells have further shown how the landscape has changed. Rybakina, Sabalenka and Swiatek are the winners of the last three grand slams and are the top three in the WTA race rankings. With the focus quickly shifting to the Miami Open, they are the three players to beat.

Aryna Sabalenka in the Indian Wells final
Aryna Sabalenka’s serve let her down in the first set. Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP/Getty Images

As they addressed the crowd during the trophy ceremony, both players acknowledged the significance of their match-up and the start of what feels like a new rivalry.

“It’s actually the first time it went my way, so we’ll see. Hopefully we’re gonna play many more finals,” said Rybakina. Sabalenka then stepped up to the mic and interjected with a smile: “I’ll make sure it was the last one.”

Elena Rybakina confirms rise by beating Aryna Sabalenka to win Indian Wells

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