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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Monday March 2, 2020

 
Elena Rybakina

20-year-old Elena Rybakina has rocketed up the rankings in the last year, and the best could still be yet to come.

Photo Source: DDF Tennis

In each of the last two seasons at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells the WTA has registered a seismic shock. In 2018 it was Naomi Osaka storming to her maiden WTA title—she would go on to win two majors before she returned for Indian Wells in 2019.

Tennis Express

2019 was Bianca Andreescu’s year in California. The Canadian crushed her way to the title, thrilling fans and pundits wither her versatile game and her press room tales of meditation and morning yoga sessions. Six months later Andreescu would become the first player to win the US Open on her debut.

Could it be Elena Rybakina’s turn in 2020?

Maybe, maybe not, but the Kazakh’s incredible start to her campaign has the tennis world excited about her future. Already, at 20, the 6’0” Moscow-born Rybakina has proven that she can be a legitimate title-winning force on tour. She became the first WTA player to win 20 matches in the first two months of the season since 2009 this year, amassing a 21-4 record and claiming the WTA lead in wins, aces (144) and three-set wins (9).


Ranked 17th on Monday, Rybakina has just 191 ranking points to defend between now and the end of Roland Garros, which means that a Top 10 debut is not all that far-fetched for a player that began her 2019 season at 191.

You’ll hear the word power usedperhaps overused—regularly when Rybakina is referred to and that happens for a reason. She’s a colossal crusher of the ball, but fans should not make the mistake of assuming that she relies strictly on power to make her way through tennis matches.

Simona Halep gave a very insightful assessment of the many attributes of Rybakina after she outlasted her in a third-set breaker in the Dubai final just over a week ago:

“She's moving well, even if she's very tall,” Halep said. “Her ball doesn't jump that much. It's really tough to find the length of the ball.”

The Romanian also praised Rybakina’s rock-solid backhand.

“The shot, cross backhand, is amazing,” Halep said. “She can go also down the line. I think she's at the highest confidence level. I think everything she hits, it's really good now.”


You don’t normally hear the Romanian toss that much praise in the direction of a younger player but she was clearly impressed with Rybakina’s ability to vary her backhand and defend her baseline, which bodes well for the rising star.

She’s a player that can take the racquet out of an opponent’s hand, but she doesn’t need to do that in order to win. That’s the allure of Rybakina’s game right now: it appears to be versatile enough and intelligent enough to make her a bona fide threat on all surfaces against all matchups.

Rybakina looks to be aggressive whenever she can but what makes her special is the fact that she has a keen knack for recognizing when other tactics are needed. She improvises well and there are times when she will calmly play defensive lobs or use her reflexes to re-direct an opponent’s attack by simply using her deft racquet skills to nudge the ball into space.

She has a great feel for ebbs and flows of rallies, and doesn’t force her shots when they simply aren’t there. It’s this poise and tennis IQ that aids Rybakina and allows her to turn her raw power and athleticism into big points won and big matches won.

Rybakina credits her coach Stefano Vukov and the intense training the pair did for six weeks this off-season as a catalyst for her breakthrough in 2020. The chemistry between the two looks great and, clearly, seeing results so early into their partnership (it has been about a year) gives the 20-year-old augmented confidence.

“I had good pre-season actually. First time I did like six weeks of preparation. I feel good on court. I feel confidence” she said.

According to Rybakina the fact that Vukov travels with her to all tour stops is also playing an important role in her success, both technically and tactically.

That hard work is making a difference in her movement as well. As Halep alluded to, she’s not a clunky mover at all, and that says a lot given how tall she is. She has great footwork around the ball and can get low without any difficulty, often crouching to play defense on the run or dig out backhand slices.

She’s no Halep when it comes to movement, but Rybakina’s quite good for her size and her anticipatory skills make her seem even better than she is.

Of all the WTA players aged 20 and under, Rybakina is ranked second, behind only Andreescu. It has been remarkable to watch her climb so rapidly in 2020, winning nine of ten three setters and quadrupling her number of Top 10 wins in the span of six months. But what could be even more remarkable is what she does next.

Could she be the next shock champion at Indian Wells? And what lies in wait for her this spring on the clay, where she won eight of 11 tour-level matches in 2019?

She’s young, and is quick to admit that she has much to learn and improve, but that hasn’t kept her from being one the WTA’s five best players already in 2020.

The future’s clearly bright and the next step could be bold for Elena Rybakina—there are no guarantees at this elite level of tennis, but with her jaw-dropping game and burgeoning confidence, more good things are bound to happen.

 

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