ROME -- By her own admission, Elena Rybakina's run to her biggest clay-court title was a weird one. Much to her surprise, everything seemed to break her way. From a trio of retirement wins at the at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, to the cool and rainy weather, the fortnight played right into Rybakina's hands.
"I came without any expectations because I really struggle a bit here in Rome with allergies," Rybakina told WTA Insider after sealing the fifth title of her career and second of the season. Usually, it's very hot here but this time it was raining all the time, so it kind of helped me survive.
The positives are also evident. Rybakina leads the tour in WTA 1000 wins this season, adding Rome to her Indian Wells win. On Monday, she will make her Top 5 debut, at No.4, assuring herself a Top 4 seeding at Roland Garros, which begins in one week.
The difference between being ranked No.5 and No.4 is a meaningful one. It means Rybakina will not face either No.1 Iga Swiatek or No.2 Aryna Sabalenka before the semifinals.
Speaking after the final on Saturday, Anhelina Kalinina recalled playing ITF 25K events with Rybakina years ago and the inspiration she now takes seeing the 23-year-old's rise.
"She's an amazing player, top player," Kalinina said. "I am sure if she's going to do like this, maybe new World No. 1 for sure."
Rybakina was flattered by the sentiment, but with another major looming around the corner, the reigning Wimbledon champion was keeping her feet firmly planted on the ground.
"I think everything is possible," Rybakina said. "There's a lot of things to improve, but even if you reach your goals you don't want to fall quick. To maintain the level is difficult.
"Even if I reached now No.4 it can change in another week. It's not easy to maintain. I want to have maybe not as quick results but to have good consistency and get to the goal slowly and have this consistency."
Here's more from Rybakina on her growing confidence on clay and her chances in Paris:
WTA Insider: Do you remember a moment in your career where you started to believe you could have good success on clay?
Rybakina: I always felt that I could play good on clay but it was either not enough time to prepare and when I was a kid I wasn't spending that much time on clay. So it was a bit strange because I feel like I can play good, but it wasn't the results that I wanted or still I wasn't that confident.
Now, I think it's just experience and better preparation that I have. I can have good results.
WTA Insider: What did this fortnight in Rome teach you with respect to your game on clay?
Rybakina: For sure I need to be more patient on clay because it's much slower, the rallies are longer, so I really need to be patient. Also, I need a bit more improvement at the net, to come more often at the net to finish the rallies. But overall, it's more about the patience and physical preparation on clay.
WTA Insider: Are you the type of player who wants to adjust your game to the surface or one who just needs to get comfortable playing your game on the surface?
Rybakina: I think for sure I need to stick to my game. no matter what, I can't just run all of a sudden and defend all the time. So for sure, I need to stay aggressive no matter the surface.
But there is adaptation to the rallies, you need to prepare the ball to be that aggressive. And the serve, the speed can help you but also better placement. Maybe on hard court and grass maybe it's just good enough to put good speed on the ball, but on clay you need to adapt for sure.
WTA Insider: Was this the perfect preparation for Paris?
Rybakina: It's still a lot of work because at least before the hard-court season, and hopefully before grass, I have good time for preparation.
For clay, it wasn't as much time as I wanted, not as many practices as I wanted to have. That's why my expectations were still not that high. But for sure these two weeks helps me come to French Open, with all these matches. For me to maintain physically to be healthy, I'm sure I can do well at the French Open.