Elena Rybakina Is Really Special - UBITENNIS
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Elena Rybakina Is Really Special

Let’s take a look at the most improved player of the 2020 season, who has reached the final in four tournaments out of the five she’s competed in.

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One of the most fascinating things in tennis is witnessing the ascent of special players. Whether they do it gradually or out of the blue, young athletes experience a breakthrough and emerge from virtual obscurity, revealing themselves to the world.

I’ve mentioned special players because, in order to reach a higher plateau (that of champions), it is necessary that the stars that aligned to propitiate their emergence stay that way for quite some time. Astrological metaphors aside, the careers of up-and-coming sportspeople are laden with unpredictability and with setbacks that might shatter the prospects of the most promising ones. Timing is essential to avoid health issues, injuries, or even growing pains that might be acceptable and expected at other times, but that might compromise an entire career if occurring at the worst possible moment.

This long premise is needed to approach what Elena Rybakina has done in 2020, because it’s the token of a special player. And if she’ll be able to keep up with what she’s accomplished over the last few weeks, then we will be able to say that we were all witnesses to the surge of something even bigger, perhaps a Top 10 player, perhaps a champion.

In order to talk about her, I need to go back to her beginnings. Setting up the table, perhaps perfunctorily, is essential to understanding her growth and evolution, which have transformed her into the unique player she is today.

Rybakina’s beginnings

Elena Rybakina was born in Moscow on June 17, 1999, and started playing tennis at six. She’s said in an interview that tennis was a “second choice” because of her height: she dabbled for a bit with gymnastics and ice skating, but every coach told her clearly that she was too tall to be a standout (well, if you’re tall you do stand out, but I don’t think that the irony translates in Russian as well). At her first ice skating training, all newcomers were split into two groups: those who could hope to reach official competitions, and those who could only do it for fun – Elena ended up in the latter.

Racquets and fuzzy balls then became the default option, but, while initially a rebound game for the heartbroken child, tennis soon became the real love affair for Elena. She very simply enjoys playing, and such enjoyment has remained through the years, even when sacrifice and hard work became staples in order to reach loftier heights – tennis is still a game to her.

After a few local tournaments, here comes the big stage of international junior tournaments. As an understudy, Rybakina’s career was marked by good-yet-not-too-good results. She played quite a lot (95 wins, 35 losses), and after a few bouts she began to be called up for team competition by the Russian federation, becoming an athlete of national interest.

She then reached the junior Top 100, but didn’t become a household name till the very end of her junior career. In 2017, she reached the semis at the French Open, the quarters at Flushing Meadows, and above all won the Bonfiglio Trophy, a Grade A tournament (just as important as a Major), in May. At the Milan event, she beat Wang Xiyu in the second round, and Iga Swiatek in the final, although it should be noted that the Pole is two years younger than Rybakina.

The Bonfiglio final can still be watched on YouTube: that day, Swiatek leapt out of the blocks, finding herself ahead with a score of 6-1 6-5, and about to serve the match out. At the decisive moment, though, she couldn’t seal the deal (especially because of a high double fault tally), paving the way for Rybakina’s 1-6 7-6 6-3 comeback win. Therefore, the takeaway was that Swiatek was more talented albeit more mercurial, and that she was the one who would leave a mark on women’s tennis.

Thanks to the results she racked up over the last few months as a junior player, at an age when most of her peers had already turned pro, Elena reached her highest ranking at N.3 in December 2017. Throughout her junior days, she trained at the Spartak Moscow club under Andrey Chesnokov (who needs no introductions) and Evgenia Kulikovskaya (former world N.91 in 2003), while her fitness regiment was managed by Irina Kiseleva, former modern Pentathlon world champion. Obviously, they weren’t her exclusive coaches, but rather mentored the whole young crux of the tennis club.

Meanwhile, Rybakina found her feet at the ITF level, and, like with her junior career, she didn’t stand out as particularly precious, but rather matured at a steady pace. At the end of 2017, she was the 420th player in the world, and suited herself for one more season of ranking-climbing. In 2018, she won a 15K in Kazana, while also debuting on the WTA Tour thanks to a wildcard for the St. Petersburg indoor event. There, she reached the quarter finals by knocking out in a major upset the then world N.7 Caroline Garcia (2-6 7-6 6-4) before bowing out against Julia Goerges. The 125 points she earned represented a shade less than half of her season’s haul, and boosted her ranking up to the 191st spot.

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Rising Star Mirra Andreeva Teams Up With Wimbledon Champion Martinez

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Mirra Andreeva – Australian Open 2024 (foto: X @WTA)

Teenage sensation Mirra Andreeva has begun working with a former Grand Slam champion on a trial basis ahead of the French Open.

The 16-year-old has linked up with Conchita Martinez, who is overseeing her run at this week’s Rouen Open in France. Martinez peaked at a ranking high of No.2 during her career and won 33 WTA titles. After retiring from the sport, she has coached Garbine Muguruza and Karolina Pliskova. 

Andreeva’s latest partnership was formed with the help of her agent ‘two or three weeks ago.’ According to the WTA website, their practice week went well and now they are testing working together during a tournament. 

“So far, so good,” said Andreeva“I like it, I hope she likes it too. We will see how it will go and then we will decide about our next tournaments. I cannot say there are special aspects we are working on. But the first thing we worked on was my slice, because she was a good slicer. So she told me some tricks, and I’m trying to use it when I have time and a good possibility on court.”

Andreeva is currently ranked 43rd in the world and is the youngest player in the top 100. She has already reached the fourth round of both Wimbledon and the Australian Open but is yet to win a WTA title. So far this year the Russian’s best result was a quarter-final appearance at the Brisbane International. 

Martinez, who also reached the last 16 of a major at the age of 16, spoke about the teenager with Ubitennis during last year’s Wimbledon Championships. At the time she pointed out that consistency is key for the youngster.

“The most important thing is that she keeps practising and focusing on what she has to do to get better. It’s great what she is doing now but she has to maintain it,” she commented.

Andreeva kicked off her campaign in Rouen with a 6-1, 6-3, win over Nadia Podoroska. 

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Red-Hot Danielle Collins Ready To Take On Red Clay After Charleston Triumph

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Image via https://twitter.com/CharlestonOpen/

Just how good is Danielle Collins?

Right now, she may be as good as anyone on the WTA Tour.

Just think about it. Who’s better?

Winning a seven-round near-major one week on hard courts, then putting together six straight victories the next week on green clay is fairly significant.

Collins didn’t go against a lame duck field in either tournament, especially at the Credit One Charleston Open where she defeated three of the best clay-courters on the tour in Ons Jabeur, Maria Sakkari and Daria Kasatkina, as well as the likes of Sloane Stephens and Paula Badosa. She defeated a Wimbledon champion, Elena Rybakina, on hard courts in the Miami final.

ONLY TWO LOSING SETS IN 28

Collins lost only two of the 28 sets she played in Miami and Charleston.

Of course, second-ranked Aryna Sabalenka and third-ranked Coco Gauff are power players on any surface. But after those two, Collins looks capable of winning anything in sight. It would be interesting to see Collins take on either of those two on Europe’s red clay.

Collins now has played about as brilliantly in these two tournaments as Sabalenka, Gauff or top-ranked Iga Swiatek have played within the last year.

Collins has the type game no one wants to play against right now. She has jumped all the way to 15th in the world after her success at Miami and Charleston.

COLLINS DOMINANT IN FINAL

Against 2017 Charleston winner Kasatkina in Sunday’s final, Collins was dominant in a 6-2, 6-1 victory. The Russian didn’t have the game to match up with Collins’ power. Collins played to win, and wasted few opportunities.

No one on the WTA Tour attacks more aggressively than the 30-year-old Collins. Short balls end up being a “done deal” when Collins moves in on them and smashes forehands, backhands and lobs away. She nails high back-handed returns of lobs to the corners with the same type of precision she connects with high forehand put-aways inside the court. Few players can hit that type of backhand high volley with such power and precision.

 She also plays the baseline as aggressively as anywhere else, and her serve is solid enough to keep her out of early trouble. Few double-faults find her racket.

LOCKED INTO PROCESS

“I think one of my biggest areas of improvement over the course of the last few weeks has been my concentration and focus and really being locked into my process,” Collins said after winning Charleston.

“These women that I’m playing against, they’re the best in the world, and it’s — sometimes things go your way and then sometimes things don’t go your way, and you have to be open to that when those times do happen.

“I’m really looking forward to getting home (Bradenton, Fla.) and getting some time to spend where I don’t think about tennis, and then hopefully when Madrid comes around I am back in ‘Danimal’ mode. Then it’s back to reality. So it’s like spring break for me. I feel like a kid at spring break.”

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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Danielle Collins Extends Winning Streak To 12 Matches

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image via https://twitter.com/CharlestonOpen/

Danielle Collins just goes out and wins.

She wastes few shots and is a master of shot placements.

The court surface doesn’t seem to matter. She did it a week ago on hard courts to win the Miami Open. And she is doing it again at the Credit One Charleston Open on clay courts.

Collins has won 12 straight matches and is one win away from a coveted second straight title on the WTA Tour.

She’s unseeded, but keeps winning. She is the last American standing.

In Saturday’s Charleston semifinals, Collins scored a relatively easy 6-3, 6-3 win over third-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece.

KASATKINA STANDS IN COLLINS’ WAY

Just 2017 Charleston champion Daria Kasatkina is standing in the 30-year-old Collins’ way of a second straight tour title.

Oh, yes, Collins is playing her final year on the WTA Tour. She wants to go out a winner badly.

Kasatkina is the fourth seed, and she may already have played a key role in Collins’ drive to another title. Top seed Jessica Pegula appeared to be unbeatable in this Charleston Open until running  into Kasatkina in Saturday’s first semifinal and simply couldn’t close out the Russian when their  match was on the line.

PEGULA’S LOSS BIG SURPRISE

Pegula’s 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (5) loss to Kasatkina was the biggest surprise of this tournament. Pegula had won the last 12 games of a 6-1, 6-0 win over Kasatkina in 2023 in Tokyo’s Pan Pacific Open.

Very tough match,” the ultra-conservative playing Kasatkina said about Saturday’s long match that ended in a third-set tiebreaker.
“Really happy with my win, with the way how I did it. And, yeah, really happy to be in the finals here again.”

Kasatkina has been impressed by Collins’ outstanding recent play.

“Danielle is, I think, playing the best tennis of her career right now. She’s fearless. When she feels her game, she’s one of the most dangerous players on tour, and she definitely feels it right now,” Kasatkina said.
“So, yeah, it’s going to be very tough battle. And it’s finals. I mean, it’s so nice. I’m so happy to be in the finals, and I think it’s going to be a good one. I think the atmosphere is going to be great because playing an American in the United States, it always brings some extra electricity on court. So, I’m really looking forward to it.”

COLLINS IMPRESSED BY KASATKINA’S PLAY

Collins also has respect for Kasatkina’s style of play.

“We’ve played so many matches against each other over the years and battles. She’s one of my favorite players to watch because she makes these matches so interesting,” Collins said about Kasatkina.

“The way that she plays and her tennis IQ, how creative she is on court is phenomenal. I think against Daria I have to be very flexible. She has just about every tool in her toolbox. She can hit big. She can hit with shape. She can hit slices. She can come into the net. She does everything very, very well. She serves and returns well. She mixes up her pace. She’s just solid all over. And so, it’s going to be a battle, and I have to be ready to play a long, tough match, if that’s what’s needed.

“I’ll have to kind of take a little bit more of a look statistically at some things and some different patterns, but I think the biggest thing is just fighting until the end and being adaptable out there.”

About her win over the usually solid Sakkari, Collins said, “I think my aggressive game style helped me. I had to stick with it. And she was throwing a lot at me and doing a lot of different things.
“So, I had to try to counter that and use my aggressive game style as much as I could.”

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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