Elena Rybakina was the last woman standing in the desert as she captured the WTA 1000 title in Indian Wells with a 7-6(11), 6-4 victory over Aryna Sabalenka. In the process she earned her revenge against Sabalenka from the Australian Open final they contested not quite two months ago that saw the Belarussian prevail 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to take home the first Major title of her career.
Rybakina played near flawless tennis for the duration of the tournament, only dropping a single set the entire event, back in her quarter-final win over Karolina Muchova. Most impressively, she dispatched World No. 1 Iga Świątek in straight sets, 6-2, 6-2 in the semifinals, defeating a player who has hardly conceded games, let alone sets or matches to anyone else on the WTA this year. Rybakina is in fact the only player so far in 2023 who has beaten Świątek more than once.
In the opening set Sabalenka led by a break up 4-2, but Rybakina fought her way back and forced a lengthy tiebreak to settle things. In the second frame, the wind picked up causing some trouble on Sabalenka’s serve, a key fact Rybakina admitted in her post-match press conference.
“Well, I think important was the first set. We both had chances, but in the end, it went my way. So I think it was important this first set, and then it was a bit easier to start the second with an early break. Then the conditions also changed a bit. In the end of the second set it became very windy, so from one side it was difficult to play. But since I had this advantage of the score I, think this was the difference today.”
After a few years of seeing a variety of women at the top of the WTA, it seems like we’re in the process of witnessing three players emerge from the pack in the first quarter of the season. Rybakina has taken the latest big title in Indian Wells, but Sabalenka and Swiatek are right up there as well.
There will be no rest for any of the three, as the Miami Open is immediately upon the tennis world and will give the three stars one last chance to take home some hard court hardware before the tour moves to clay courts.
Which one of the three will be favoured on the red dirt in Europe? According to tennis analyst and former player Brad Gilbert, who appeared on this week’s episode of Match Point Canada, Swiatek will be the one to beat.
“I think once we get back to the clay she’ll be an overwhelming favourite in the clay court season. And there’s three majors left, I’d still put the over-under on her at least winning another major.”
Bianca Andreescu continued to make progress on finding the game we all marveled at back in 2019 when she captured the title in Indian Wells. Despite falling to Iga Świątek in the second round 6-3, 7-6(1), she displayed some of the tennis that we’ve all seen frustrate her opponents. There were moments where she led in the second set where Świątek certainly did not seem to be enjoying what she was up against, and there aren’t many players on the WTA who have made the World No. 1 feel that way in 2023.
As for Leylah Annie Fernandez, she once again had to face top-five player Caroline Garcia (the two met earlier this year in Australia). While the Frenchwoman prevailed once again, it was not an easy feat and required three sets.
While Canadian tennis fans might be exasperated with the tough draws that both Andreescu and Fernandez have received in the early goings of 2023, Fernandez prefers to look at the positive side about facing some of the top players early in a draw:
“It makes me excited. It’s an opportunity to play against the best in the world. It’s never easy to face them but it’s a great chance to see where my level is. What I need to work on.”
No surprises in the women’s doubles draw as the No. 1 all-Czech tandem of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova brought home another big title, this time with a tight 6-1, 6-7(3), 10-7 victory over Laura Siegemund and Beatriz Haddad Maia. It’s their second tournament win this year, including the Aussie Open.
Canada’s Gabriela Dabrowski was reunited with Luisa Stefani in Indian Wells for just the second time since their US Open semifinal back in 2021 that saw the Brazilian have to withdraw with a serious leg injury. The duo fell in the quarter-finals to Aldila Sutjiadi and Miyu Kato 6-2, 7-6(4) but should be counted on for big results moving forward if their history together is any indication.