Hobart | Rybakina wins second title
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Elena Rybakina won her second career title at the Hobart International on Saturday with a win over Zhang Shuai, 7-6(7) 6-3, taking an hour and 33 minutes before lifting her first trophy this season.
It’s amazing, of course. I’m really happy with my win today, because last week, I had an opportunity, and I lost in the final. So this week, today I was really motivated, and I’m really happy with this result. Elena Rybakina
Later in the day, India’s Sania Mirza, winner of 6 Grand Slam doubles titles, completed her impressive comeback by winning the women’s doubles title with Ukrainian partner Nadiia Kichenok.
Last week, Rybakina, a 20-year old from Kazakstan, was thwarted at the Shenzhen International by Ekaterina Alexandrova, who won her maiden WTA title in the first tournament of the season.
This week, Rybakina, the 3rd seed in Hobart, would not be denied as she weathered a tight set and then romped home for the win.
“It’s amazing, of course,” Rybakina told the press, after her victory. “I’m really happy with my win today, because last week, I had an opportunity, and I lost in the final. So this week, today I was really motivated, and I’m really happy with this result.”
The first set was easy enough for her, at first, as she built a quick 4-1 lead over her 4th-seeded opponent, using her fearsome forehand and nearly impenetrable serve to help her along to the commanding lead.
Zhang remained unfazed, however, and at 4-2, the Chinese staved off Rybakina’s 40-0 lead and clawed back on serve, using her variety of shot to pull herself back level for the remainder of the set.
She scrambled into the forecourt to routinely put away overheads, and designed pristine passes when her opponent ventured forward, taking the set into the tiebreak where the Chinese held a set point at 6-5, which Rybakina determinedly erased with a crosscourt backhand.
The Kazakh’s first set point came at 7-6 but an errant shot from her levelled the score, and when she held a second at 8-7, a mistimed shot from Zhang sealed Rybakina’s lead in the match.
“I started very well, then, again, I lost concentration for a few games, but I managed to come back and win the [opening] set,” said Rybakina.
“It was not easy, it was windy a bit. The second set, I played much better.”
In the first meeting between the two players, Rybakina broke Zhang twice in a much more straightforward second set in which she did not face any break points of her own to claim the title.
“Last week in Shenzhen, my opponent played really good, and it was a tough match,” Rybakina stated.
“Today I was just maybe more focused, because it’s the second time in the final, and of course I wanted to win so much. I just was focused 100 percent.”
This time last year, Rybakina was ranked World No 171 and had yet to play the main draw of any Grand Slam events and now she is projected to be ranked a career-high World No 26 in Monday’s new rankings, and will be seeded No 29 in her Australian Open main draw debut next week.
“Last year [at the Australian Open] I lost first round in qualies, and this year I’m going to be seeded, so that’s great,” said Rybakina, who will face American Bernarda Pera in the first round in Melbourne.
“I’m just looking forward to this match on Monday.”
Rybakina added that her rise up the ranks of the WTA has been pretty fast: ‘We’ve worked a lot with my coach, and it was not easy: so many tournaments I played last year.
“Now I’ve had a great pre-season, six weeks, and now I feel much better than last year, physically.”
She has now won 30 of her last 39 matches on tour, a sequence which began with her run to her first-ever WTA singles title at Bucharest last July.
On Saturday, the Kazakh won nearly 80 percent of points on her first serve during the final, and went 3-for-3 on break point conversion, while only being broken once all day.
World No 40 Zhang got 71 percent of her first serves into play, but after a competitive first set, she dropped the final 4 games of the match.
Later, Zhang also fell in the doubles final where, in a dream start to her second innings after a two-year break, Sania Mirza lifted the Hobart trophy with partner Nadiia Kichenok.
The Indo-Ukrainian pair edged out the No 2 seeds from China, Peng Shaui & Zhang, 6-4 6-4 in an hour and 21 minutes.
Playing her first tournament after giving birth to son Izhaan, the 33-year-old Mirza has begun her return well in the Olympic year as she warmed up for the Australian Open in style.
It is was her 42nd WTA doubles title and the first since lifting the Brisbane International trophy in 2017 with American partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better comeback,” she wrote on Twitter.
Mirza did not compete on the WTA Tour in 2018 and 2019, taking time off to start a family with husband Shoaib Malik.
Mirza & Kichenok began by breaking the Chinese in the very first game of the match, only to drop their serve in the next.
The two teams played tight games to 4-4, 40-all, when Mirza & Kichenok got the crucial break, earning the opportunity to serve out the set, which they comfortably pocketed.
The second could not have started better for them as they broke the Chinese to take early lead and consolidated the break with an easy hold, and then went up 4-2.
Peng & Zhang kept fighting and made it 4-4 with another break in the 8th game, but the Indo-Ukraine team raised their game when it mattered and broke for a final time in the 9th and served out the match in the next game.