ROME, Italy - Revenge was a dish best served cold at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia for No.10 seed Elena Rybakina, who paid Ekaterina Alexandrova back for two previous losses this year by meting out a ruthless 6-0, 6-4 first-round defeat in one hour and one minute.
The Kazakh had been denied by Alexandrova 6-2, 6-4 in the Shenzhen final in January - the first of four finals a surging Rybakina would reach in the first two months of the year - and then again 7-5, 7-6(6) in the first round of Cincinnati on the Tour resumption in August. Today, though, she betrayed little hangover effect from those two results, instead storming through the first nine games and dominating from beginning to end with 17 winners and an 87% first serve winning percentage.
Afterwards, Rybakina was satisfied with her revenge. "I am happy because I played against her already twice," she said. "It's a different surface and of course I know how she plays, I had tactics before the match that I followed."
Overall, Rybakina said that today's task had not been as straightforward as she made it appear. "It was not easy because I just came from America and I'm jetlagged," she admitted. "I had one week to prepare on clay and it's not enough, usually it takes a longer time - but we have to adjust. But I'm happy to play matches, and the more I play the better for me. Every match I will find my rhythm and also move better on clay, because it's completely different [to hard courts]."
Rybakina's formidable serve was on song straight out of the gates: throughout the first set, almost every point behind her delivery would either be unreturned or set the 21-year-old up for a heavy groundstroke putaway. She would lose just two points on serve in the opening act, one each behind her first and second deliveries.
By contrast, Alexandrova was at sea. The Russian's own serve is also one of the most renowned on tour, and previous encounters between the pair had pitted the power of each delivery against each other - but today, Alexandrova was unable to back it up off the ground. Loose unforced errors brought up an immediate break point for Rybakina, who seized it with a booming forehand winner down the line.
Matters did not improve greatly for the World No.31, whose serve swiftly followed her groundstrokes downhill. Two double faults in each of her next two service games paved the way for another two breaks of serve en route to a 19-minute first-set whitewash, concluded as Alexandrova sent a forehand long - her 10th unforced error of the day - on Rybakina's third set point.
The second set saw a slight dip from Rybakina on serve, though not one that caused much concern at first. From near-perfection in the first set, the Hobart champion had to recover 0-30 deficits twice - once having dug herself a hole with consecutive double faults. But Rybakina would do this magnificently, each time simply gathering herself to reel off four straight points for the hold - the second time with four service winners in a row.
Meanwhile, Rybakina's groundstrokes were, if anything, going from strength to strength. Three superb forehand winners garnered her immediate break points on Alexandrova's serve in the second game, and the 25-year-old conceded the first with her fifth double fault.
Having been shut out of the first nine games of the match, Alexandrova managed to find something of a groove on serve, staving off points to fall behind a double break. This seemed as though it could pay off when Rybakina stumbled out of nowhere serving for the match: the St. Petersburg and Dubai finalist suddenly coughed up a pair of backhand errors and a double fault, and Alexandrova seized her lifeline with alacrity, powering an off forehand winner to get back on serve.
But Rybakina would not be denied: upping the ante on return, she righted the ship with little fuss, working her way to double match point with a pair of scorching crosscourt forehands. A seventh double fault proved the end of Alexandrova's resistance as Rybakina went through to set up a second-round date with either Marie Bouzkova or Ajla Tomljanovic.