Melbourne | Rybakina seals semi-final spot with dominant win over Ostapenko

Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina dominated Jelena Ostapenko at the Australian Open on Monday to reach her first semi-final at Melbourne Park.

The conditions were different, but we expect that it can happen in Australia - you never know in the morning, it's one weather, then in a few hours it changes. You have to be ready always. That's the beauty of the sport, everybody needs to adapt and, I think, I did really well from the beginning of the match, then continued through the first set. I'm super happy that I managed with the emotions and I played really well today, Elena Rybakina

Easing her way into the Last 4, Rybakina saw off Latvia’s Ostapenko, 6-2 6-4, after an hour and 14 minutes on Rod Laver Arena, despite the distraction of a heavy shower, which caused a delay as the roof was closed and the court surface mopped up.

“I’m super happy to be in the semi-finals for the first time,” said Rybakina, the youngest player left in the women’s draw at 23, afterwards. “Of course, I was nervous, particularly in the last game, but I’m happy I managed my emotions.

“I played really well today.”

Rybakina will play the winner of Tuesday evening’s quarter-final between 3rd-seeded Jessica Pegula from the United States and former two-time AO champion Victoria Azarenka, who is from Belarus.

“For sure, I’m going to watch it,” Rybakina said. “But at the same time, I need to forget about tennis just for a few hours, to rest the mind, then prepare for another tough match.”

2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko briefly threatened Elena Rybakina but was pegged back in straight sets on Tuesday

© Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

Rybakina is a Russian-born Kazakh, who is having to assert herself as a Top 10 player even though she won The Championships at Wimbledon in July where she was denied the appropriate ranking points because of the All England Club’s refusal to accept entries from Russian and Belarusian players as a result of the war in Ukraine.

She has subsequently spoken about not feeling like a Grand Slam champion, and began her Melbourne campaign out on Court 13 rather than a show-court.

The current World No 25 switched her allegiance to Kazakstan in 2018, long before Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, and is her adopted country’s top player.

She is also one of the game’s biggest hitters, and she met another on Tuesday in Ostapenko, also a Grand Slam title winner, the Latvian having won the French Open in 2017.

Both had caused upsets in the previous rounds, Rybakina defeating World No 1 Iga Swiatek, after toppling 13th seed and AO 2022 finalist Danielle Collins, while Ostapenko had powered past Coco Gauff, the 7th seed.

Ostapenko, herself seeded 17, came into the match-up brimming with confidence as the 25-year-old had not dropped a set to Rybakina in their two previous meetings, plus she had produced impeccable form against Gauff, whom she had also beaten in straight sets.

“She hits really hard, and she plays aggressive like me,” Rybakina observed of Ostapenko ahead of their quarter-final match. “I think it’s going to be [a] tough battle, like the previous matches.”

Reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina took out Iga Swiatek and Danielle Collins before beating Jelena Ostapenko on Tuesday to make the Last 4 at Melbourne Park

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Finally restored to the main stage at Melbourne Park, though, Rybakina followed up her stunning win over Swiatek with another ruthless display against Ostapenko, who was playing in her first major quarter-final for nearly 5 years, but produced too many errors to put any real pressure on the Kazakh.

Rybakina broke serve to open the match and was 3-1 ahead when the rain came, maintaining her momentum on resumption of play about 30 minutes later to take the first set.

Comfortable at the net, she punched out crisp volleys to show off the prowess that has also helped take her to the 3rd-round of the women’s doubles competition, while a composed Rybakina closed out the opening set when an Ostapenko forehand return sailed long.

The Latvian, who complained about the accuracy of the automated line calling, threatened a fightback when she opened up a 2-0 lead in the second, but she could not hold onto it.

Unfazed, the 22nd seed broke her back, before, after holding, edging herself ahead by winning the next 4 breaks with a second break, saving 4 break points in the process, and although Ostapenko saw off the first 2 match points, the contest was done and dusted soon after.

The Kazakh had no problems with the fact that rain had turned the match into an indoor tussle under the closed roof.

“The conditions were different, but we expect that it can happen in Australia – you never know in the morning, it’s one weather, then in a few hours it changes,” she said. “You have to be ready always.

“That’s the beauty of the sport, everybody needs to adapt and, I think, I did really well from the beginning of the match, then continued through the first set.

“I’m super happy that I managed with the emotions and I played really well today,” added Rybakina.

At the last Jelena Ostapenko (L) was outgunned by Elena Rybakina on Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday afternoon

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Ostapenko had produced flashes of brilliance, but it was Rybakina who better-harnessed her power and precision with a semi-finals berth in sight, sealing the deal, appropriately, with a final ace to extend her tournament-leading tally to 35.

Almost three-quarters of the points were decided within 4 shots, while Rybakina’s serve, the best in the women’s game following Serena Williams’ retirement, yielded 11 aces, and proved to be the key difference between them.

The Kazakh’s average first and second serve speeds of 178.5 km/h and 134.9 km/h outpaced Ostapenko’s at 156.3km/h and 127.2 km/h, respectively.

“I would say that I always served big, but, for sure, when I started to work with my coach, we did a lot of changes on the technique,” Rybakina said. “Like this, I gained even more power.

“It’s my weapon on the court and, of course, we are trying to work on it. It’s always a lot to improve.

“I guess everybody else needs to think if, in this aspect, they need to work more or not, because some girls, they are fine, maybe not, with the speed but they have good angles on the serve.

“They are opening the court. I think everybody is different, and everybody’s just trying to do what’s best for them on the court.”

Rybakina also was able to apply immense pressure by putting 80% of returns in play, while Ostapenko only managed to return 57% of her serves.

Plus, her 24 winners, including those 11 aces, were tempered by 21 unforced errors, but she saved 7 of 8 break points to comfortably ease past the Latvian.

“I think, of course, I got all the experience at Wimbledon, and it’s helping me now, this time here in Australia, and I know what to expect,” Rybakina told the press, after her win. “Feeling good on the court, and just really enjoying every match I’m playing here.”

Rybakina will have to stare down another big name in the semi-finals, in either Pegula or Azarenka. She is 1-0 against Azarenka, but 0-2 against Pegula.

“Tough opponents but, like always, I will try to prepare, I will try to watch the matches, analyse, think about this, and for sure I’m gonna give my best on the court,” Rybakina added.



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