Aryna Sabalenka takes down Elena Rybakina in marathon Madrid Open epic to seal Iga Swiatek final match-up

Thursday, 02 May 2024 at 23:59
Aryna Sabalenka (No. 2) staged an incredible comeback against Elena Rybakina (No. 4), winning 1-6, 7-5, 7-6 to advance to the final of the WTA 1000 Madrid Open, aiming to defend her crown against Iga Swiatek once again.
Sabalenka's victory ensures she remains as the world No. 2 in a tight battle with Coco Gauff, who was eliminated in the Round of 16 by Madison Keys.
In the first set, both players held their serve initially, but Rybakina began to dominate the cross-court shots, especially from her backhand, aiming to neutralize Sabalenka's powerful forehand. With the score at 1-1, Rybakina started to assert her dominance, securing two consecutive breaks and holding her service games to claim the set.
The 2022 Wimbledon champion performed better in crucial points, saving a break point against her and capitalizing on two out of three break opportunities in her favor. Rybakina was nearly flawless with her first serve, winning 72% of those points and 83% with her second, while Sabalenka struggled with a 53% first serve success rate, winning only 50% of those points and a mere 29% with her second serve.
Rybakina's aggressiveness was key to avoiding lengthy exchanges and she was forceful in her returns, unsettling Sabalenka, who committed several unforced errors. Consequently, in the second set, Sabalenka needed to improve her first serve performance to stay in the match.
The Belarusian enhanced the consistency of her shots and also improved her service points during the second set. However, once again, in the third game, she suffered a break, putting Rybakina quickly ahead by 3-1 in a challenging situation.
Rybakina was leading the match by 6-1, 4-2 after an hour of match
The world No. 2 had to fight back to try to break Rybakina's service games and eventually recovered the break in the 8th game when everything seemed to be going well for the Kazakh.
However, she was unable to hold her serve in the following game, and Rybakina broke once again. With the score 5-4 in her favor, Rybakina couldn't close the set at that moment, and Sabalenka for the second consecutive time recovered the break, leveling at 5-5. This time, the Belarusian capitalized on the momentum, held her serve, and ultimately secured her third consecutive break to close out the set 7-5.
The third set unfolded with both players comfortably holding their service games. The first break points came only in the 11th game in favor of Rybakina, but her opponent saved them with strong first serves, putting pressure on her rival. Everything came down to the tie-break, where Sabalenka handled the pressure better, taking the first mini-break, enough to lead the closure of the match and secure the victory 1-6, 7-5, 7-6.
The final will be against world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, who easily defeated Madison Keys with a score of 6-1, 6-3. Sabalenka and Swiatek have played each other 9 times before, with 6 victories for the Polish player and 3 for the Belarusian. In finals, Swiatek leads 2-1, although Sabalenka's only victory in a final was precisely at the Madrid Open a year ago.

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