INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina advanced to her first WTA 1000 final after ending No.1 Iga Swiatek's title defense at the BNP Paribas Open. The World No.10 notched her second win over Swiatek this season, winning 6-2, 6-2 in Friday night's semifinals.
Rybakina defeated Swiatek in the fourth round of the Australian Open in January and is now the second woman to defeat a reigning World No.1 at the Australian Open and Indian Wells in the same year after Lindsay Davenport in 2000. Rybakina is also the first player to win multiple matches against a reigning No.1 since 2019.
"With Iga, she's tough, really tough opponent, but when I play this good and everything goes in," Rybakina said. "Because today some moments I played, I would say, on my highest level -- [these are] moments where you can feel, OK, I can beat anyone if I always play like this.
"But it's the goal, you never feel amazing and perfect every match. I think today it was just really good from me."
Rybakina will face World No.2 Aryna Sabalenka for the title on Sunday in a rematch of the electric Australian Open final in January. There, Sabalenka edged Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to win her first major title. Sabalenka leads the head-to-head 4-0 but all their matches have gone the full three sets.
"I think [the key will be] just to play better in these important moments and hold the serve, because I think a few times it was just because of one break," Rybakina said. It's gonna be not an easy match, and it's gonna be in these clutch moments I just need to play better. Hopefully now it's gonna change the score between us."
3 - For the third time this Century two player will face each other in finals at the Australian Open and in Indian Wells after 2000 (Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis) and 2012 (Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka). Habit.#TennisParadise | @BNPPARIBASOPEN @WTA @WTA_insider pic.twitter.com/vGQTDkhtMc— OptaAce (@OptaAce) March 18, 2023
Words from the winner: "I would say I didn't expect that I was going to play that good today," Rybakina said on court. "Yesterday was a really tough match.
"I had nothing to lose. I just wanted to come and enjoy and it really went my way. I played really one of the best matches this year. I was really pleased with the game and hopefully, I'm going to play like this on Sunday."
How the match was won: In the third career meeting between the two, Swiatek came into the Indian Wells semifinal having yet to lose a set in her title defense. Rybakina was tested 24 hours earlier, needing three physical sets to overcome Karolina Muchova and advance to her first WTA 1000 semifinal.
With an eye toward becoming the first player since Maria Sharapova to make back-to-back finals at Indian Wells and just the second woman ever to successfully defend the title, Swiatek was hoping to avenge her 6-4, 6-4 loss to Rybakina in the fourth round of the Australian Open in January.
Rybakina never let Swiatek come close. After opening the match with a clean love hold, Rybakina immediately broke at 30 and consolidated a 3-0 lead. On a night when the World No.1 struggled to find her range and absorb the Kazakh's flat strokes, Rybakina's powerful, balanced aggression kept Swiatek at bay. The Wimbledon champion served better and was more consistent from the baseline.
Both players earned two break points in the opening set, with Rybakina converting both her opportunities and Swiatek failing to convert hers. Rybakina broke to close out the opening set on a Swiatek double fault, ending a 36-minute opening set. Rybakina hit 8 winners to 7 unforced errors in the first set, compared to Swiatek's 4 winners to 8 unforced errors.
Rybakina continued to pull away in the second set. In just 20 minutes, Rybakina built a 4-0 lead after breaking Swiatek at love. Swiatek finally snapped Rybakina's run of seven straight games to hold serve at 5-1 and broke for the first time in the match to 5-2. But at the second time of asking, Rybakina served out the win after 1 hour and 16 minutes.
37 - Elena Rybakina is the player with the fewest points dropped in a single match against Iga Swiatek (37 in Indian Wells 2023) since Garbine Muguruza in Dubai 2021 (35). Game Plan.#TennisParadise | @BNPPARIBASOPEN @WTA @WTA_insider pic.twitter.com/hr0HMtQJOr— OptaAce (@OptaAce) March 18, 2023
Stat of the match: Rybakina made 61% of her first serves and won 82% of her first-serve points (28/34). She was a perfect 5-for-5 on break points. She struck 18 winners to just 12 unforced errors while holding Swiatek to just 9 winners and 17 unforced errors.
Swiatek under possible injury cloud: After the match, Swiatek revealed she had been managing a rib issue during the tournament. She will remain in California to get additional tests. For now, she is still planning to play the Miami Open, which begins on Tuesday.
"Honestly, I haven't played with a lot of injuries," Swiatek said. "It's a new situation for me, for sure. Last time I played with an injury, like the only tournament I can remember is like Roland Garros 2019. So I was pretty young.
"Now it's a totally different level. So I feel like going on that matches you have to be 100% fit."