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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Saturday, April 20, 2024


Elena Rybakina scored a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win to snap Iga Swiatek’s 10-match Stuttgart winning streak and reach her fifth final of the season.

Photo credit: Alex Grimm/Getty

Stuttgart’s red clay has been an express route for Iga Swiatek’s dirt dominance.

Today, Elena Rybakina showed long-distance mastery to dethrone two-time defending champion Swiatek.

More: The Greatest Men Clay-Court Champions of All Time

Rybakina denied 11 of 13 break points in a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 triumph to snap Swiatek’s 10-match Stuttgart winning streak and reach her fifth final of the season at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.

It is Rybakina's fifth career victory over a reigning world No. 1 with four of those wins coming against rival Swiatek. Now, Rybakina has beaten the Roland Garros champion twice in a row on her favorite surface.

The fourth-ranked Rybakina is the first woman to reach five finals in the first four months of the season since former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in 2012.

This was Rybakina’s fourth win in six meetings vs. world No. 1 Swiatek and she persistently pounded the Pole’s serve on pivotal points. Rybakina earned 20 break points in the match; credit Swiatek for saving 16 break points, including fending off nine of 11 break points in the final set when Rybakina repeatedly forced the top seed to defend.

Most players find pushing the three-time Roland Garros champion around on clay as easy as a passing a Porsche while riding a unicycle. We all know: Rybakina isn't most players.

Because she owns one of the most imposing serves in the sport, plays fast and flat through the court and can dislodge Swiatek from the center of the court and disarm her with one strike, Rybakina is the one who makes the world No. 1 most jittery. 

"I think it's just style of the game. Iga, she moves really well and she likes to dominate in the rally," Rybakina said. "With me, it's difficult because I play fast, I play flatter, and also like to move the opponent.

"So it's kind of, I think, matchup where we are both pushing each other, both trying to dominate in the point. So I think of course also my serve helps a lot. That's why some matches I win; some matches I lose. But it's always tough for her to play against me and for me to play against her."

Though the 2022 Wimbledon winner has a well-earned reputation as a premier power player who can detonate points with one swing of her Yonex, Rybakina has been ruthless going the distance this season.

Rybakina raised her 2024 record to 25-4, including a superb 12-1 mark in three-setters.

Ultimately, Swiatek said Rybakina's superior serving, and her skill turning the top seed's serve games into stress tests, was the difference today.

"It was just, you know, this kind of day where I served worse. I'll try to be more consistent," Swiatek told the media in Stuttgart. "I wasn't feeling like a lot of pressure. Maybe a little bit in the third set, but still I think at the beginning the reason was kind of in me, not on the outside. Yeah, I doubted my serve a little bit in third set, and I'll try to not, like, have situations like that.

"But for sure it wasn't easy to see, you know, her winning her service games pretty easily and me, like, struggling basically on every game.

"I think at the end, you know, it also made a difference, but, you know, I was trying to get better."

Playing for her third title of the season, the Abu Dhabi and Brisbane champion Rybakina will face Marta Kostyuk in tomorrow's final.

The 27th-ranked Ukrainian Kostyuk continued her career-best burst through the draw defeating reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova 7-6(2), 6-2 in today's second final.

It is Kostyuk's seventh career Top 10 win, including her third Top 10 win of this week.

Kostyuk converted her eighth match point subduing US Open champion Coco Gauff 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(6) in Friday night's quarterfinals after she dispatched world No. 5 and Australian Open finalist Qinwen Zheng 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 in the round of 16. 

This sixth meeting between Grand Slam champions Rybakina and Swiatek was just their second clay-court clash. Last May, the pair were deadlocked 2-all in the final set of the Rome quarterfinals when Swiatek retired.

The top seed tried setting the tone in the opening game of the rematch.

Swiatek slid a diagonal forehand winner converting her third break point for the opening break. The reigning Roland Garros champion confirmed the break at 15.

Rybakina worked through a tricky deuce hold to get on the board in the third game.

That hold relaxed Rybakina, who rolled through a love break to level after four games.

Rallying from 15-40 down, Rybakina repelled a pair of break points pumping an ace as she held for 3-2.

The world No. 1, who was so free-flowing in the first two games, looked a little tight and was lacking her typical net clearance. Swiatek dragged a backhand error to drop serve again.

Stepping into the court more often, Rybakina drew a netted backhand pass as she surged through her fifth straight game for 5-2.

Moving forward, Swiatek slapped a wild forehand swing volley wide to face a set point. On a second serve, Rybakina stepped in but netted her favored two-handed backhand.

Shaking it off, Rybakina ripped a diagonal return winner for a second set point. Swiatek saved it with a sharp forehand.

Swiatek netted another forehand to face a third set point. This time, Rybakina narrowly missed a forehand return long.

On her fourth set point, Rybakina sailed a backhand long. Swiatek stood strong holding for 3-5.

Resetting, Rybakina spun a backhand winner crosscourt, converting her fifth set point to snatch a one-set lead after 49 minutes.

Deadlocked at 4-all in the second set, Swiatek held at 30 then broke to snatch the second set and force a final set.

In the decider, Swiatek saved seven break points in her first two service games.

The depth of Rybakina’s drives prevented the Roland Garros champion from playing off her front foot with frequency.

Despite a strong-willed Swiatek saving eight break points at the start of the set, Rybakina continued ripping away. Rybakina converted her ninth break point of the set to go up 3-2.

"Of course I was a bit frustrated, but the same time, Coach also was telling me and I was trying to calm down because it's clay and it doesn't mean anything," Rybakina said. "And she has very good second serve, good spin, so it pushes you out of the court so it's not easy to step in. Also at these moments, I think it's normal to be also a bit tight. She was serving well. I mean, a bit of frustration was there, but in the end of the day, I found my way."

The 6-foot Rybakina found her first serve when she needed it, saving break point to consolidate for 4-2.

Each time Swiatek made a push, Rybakina responded with an answer. The fourth seed saved another break point holding for 5-3. Rybakina, who cracked 10 aces in the match, broke to close in two hours, 49 minutes.

Tomorrow, Rybakina plays for the parked Porsche awarded to the champion though if she wins, she concedes there's just one issue: The woman who drives the world No. 1 nuts doesn't own a driver's license.

"Guys, I actually don't have driver's license," Rybakina said after her win.

Dethroning Swiatek infuses Rybakina with a dual goal.

"I wanted to [get my driver's license] already long time, but I never have chance to be at one place for long," Rybakina said. "I did already couple of lessons. I was driving, but yeah, for sure that's the goal for this year outside of the court.

"And with this car, if I win, it's going to be one double goal. Hopefully I finish it this year."


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