DOHA, Qatar - Kazakh star Elena Rybakina continued her glittering start to 2020 at the Qatar Total Open, backing up her two runner-up finishes in the last two weeks with another opening round victory over Sorana Cirstea, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 - her 20th WTA win of the season.
"I'm just working hard, always trying to fight. It wasn't an easy match today and we both played well. I'm just happy to be in the second round," Rybakina said during her on-court interview.
Rybakina took a narrow defeat in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships to Simona Halep over the weekend - having also reached the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy final the week before - and was made to battle on Monday against Cirstea, a former World No.21, before bouncing back after one hour and 41 minutes on Centre Court.
"I still have energy! I'm just fighting in every match, and we'll see. Hopefully I can keep making finals and finally win another."
The 20-year-old Rybakina has amassed an impressing 19-4 record in her first five tournaments of the season, winning the Hobart International and reaching three other finals. Three of her four defeats have been against Top 10 opposition, while she defeated the likes of Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and former World No.1 Karolina Pliskova en route to the final in Dubai.
"It's my first time here, and it's a really nice place. Hopefully I'll have time to walk around, but I'm enjoying Doha so far."
Against Cirstea, the No.14 seed suffered a slower start than usual, twice falling behind a break of serve before the Romanian closed the door, breaking a third time to capture the opening set.
"I was tired, of course, and I didn't have time to practice so much here, but I just tried to do my best today to fight and to find a way, because it was not easy in the first set and she played really good," she said in her post-match press conference.
Rybakina rebounded from there, shaking off a lost 3-1 lead in the second set to nonetheless level the match and win the first nine points of the decider.
While Cirstea soon got on the board, Rybakina wouldn't be denied, scoring an insurance break behind a thunderous backhand return before serving out her spot in the second round.
"We're always trying to improve something with my coach, even when I'm playing tournaments. We changed a bit of my serve; I mean it's just small details, it's nothing like completely different.
"I also always have a tactic or some plan for every match. Sometimes I follow it, but sometimes I can be stubborn, you know. So of course I have to improve these things also, just listen to advice from my coach and just do it."
Awaiting her there is Belgium's Alison Van Uytvanck, who dispatched Polona Hercog in straight sets on Sunday.