World No 5 Elena Rybakina cruised to a 6-1 6-4 victory over Daria Kasatkina, wrapping up the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open championship match in 68 minutes against her Russian opponent to secure her 7th career title, and the 2nd of this year.
Did I have enough in the tank for the final? I squeezed everything that I had left and it wasn't enough against a player like Elena... You have to be at your best to have a chance to beat her. Unfortunate that the tournament ended this way, but there's a lot of positives in the week. There's nothing to be sad about but, of course, it's always disappointing to lose in a final. Daria Kasatkina
“Really happy with this week, and the way I played throughout the week,” Rybakina said. “It was great tennis, I think, I showed. In the final, I was really focused from the beginning to the end. I’m very proud.”
Rybakina won her first title of the year in Brisbane last month, which preceded a shock 2nd-round loss to Anna Blinkova at the Australian Open.
The top seed’s run in Abu Dhabi, though, included impressive wins over Danielle Collins, Cristina Bucsa and No 8 seed Liudmila Samsonova.
“I was coming to this week without expectations because I had some issues in Melbourne, so we needed some time to get back on court,” the 24-year old said later. “I was just trying to get as many matches as I can. Really proud about this week. With every match I felt more confident.”
The 2022 Wimbledon champion began the contest on Stadium Court in typically dominant fashion by grabbing an early break, but 7th seeded Kasatkina struck back with a break of her own, only to fall behind again in the blustery conditions.
Rybakina then quickly raced through the opening set, aided in part by Kasatkina’s 16 unforced errors.
The 26-year old came off a 3-hour effort to get past Beatriz Haddad Maia in the semi-finals on Saturday, but with Rybakina landing 86% of her first serves, Kasatkina could find no inroads in the 25-minute set.
In the second, Kasatkina smartly threw caution to the wind and amped up her baseline aggression, and, after striking just 2 winners in the opener, she took more risks to reel Rybakina in and levelled at 4-4.
The Moscow-born Kazakh, though, snuffed out Kasatkina’s surge with a blistering return game to break for a 5th and final time for 5-4 before, after a brief rain interruption at 30-30, the former Wimbledon champion resumed play and coolly served out the win.
Rybakina finished the final match with 17 winners to 12 unforced errors, while Kasatkina hit 14 winners to 27 miscues, including 9 double-faults.
The win improved Rybakina’s record against Kasatkina to 3-2, having now taken their last two matches.
Despite Sunday’s loss, though, Kasatkina has engineered a strong start to the season, and Abu Dhabi was her second final of the year, following Adelaide in January.
With a 9-4 record, Kasatkina ranks 6th on the tour in match wins this year, according to the WTA.
Kasatkina was disappointed with the loss, but remains upbeat about her form early in the season.
“Did I have enough in the tank for the final? I squeezed everything that I had left and it wasn’t enough against a player like Elena,” Kasatkina said. “You have to be at your best to have a chance to beat her.
“Unfortunate that the tournament ended this way, but there’s a lot of positives in the week. There’s nothing to be sad about but, of course, it’s always disappointing to lose in a final.”
Rybakina, meanwhile, has rebuilt her confidence and improved her standing on the WTA Rankings, ensuring she rises to World No 4 on Monday, the Kazakh No 1 supplanting Jessica Pegula, while Kasatkina moves up to No 13.
Both players now head to Doha for the WTA 1000 tournament of the season at the Qatar TotalEnergies Open, with Kasatkina set to face compatriot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in her opener on Monday, while Rybakina, the No 3 seed, has a bye into the 2nd-round.
“A tough week, especially the last matches, and tomorrow is already a match in Doha [for Kasatkina],” Rybakina said. “Hopefully we both recover and do well there, and maybe play final there.
“I want to thank all the fans who came to support us. It’s been an amazing atmosphere and especially to see the flags from Kazakhstan it really means a lot.”
Earlier in the day, the American pair of Sofia Kenin & Bethanie Mattek-Sands took home the doubles title, defeating Czech Linda Noskova & Heather Watson from Great Britain, 6-4 7-6(4) in the final.
Although Noskova & Watson managed to force a tiebreak in the second set, the Americans were able to close the match out.
The Abu Dhabi title is the 29th career doubles title for Mattek-Sands, and her first since 2023 Seoul, while it is just the 3rd doubles title for Kenin, and her first since she won 2019 Beijing with Mattek-Sands.
Watson’s best performance in women’s doubles came at a Grand Slam came in 2018 when she reached the quarter-finals of Wimbledon.