MIAMI -- World No.4 Elena Rybakina advanced to her fourth final of the season after defeating No.27 seed Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 0-6, 7-6(2) in the semifinals of the Miami Open on Thursday. Rybakina improved to 4-0 over Azarenka and is now 22-3 on the 2024 season. 

Rybakina has enjoyed an outstanding start to her season on the hard courts, with titles in Brisbane, Abu Dhabi and her first WTA 1000 final of the year in Doha. Last year, Rybakina was a win away from sweeping the Sunshine Double, falling to Petra Kvitova 7-6(14), 6-2 in the Miami final. She is just the third player in the last 10 years to make back-to-back Miami finals, joining Serena Williams and Ashleigh Barty, the youngest player to do so since Maria Sharapova in 2005-2006.

"Last year it was different conditions, I was coming from Indian Wells, a lot of wins," Rybakina said. "This year it's much different. I was not expecting honestly to be in the final, because I was not prepared that well for this tournament.

"But really happy that I managed to battle through all these matches and be in the final again."

Rybakina will face either No.14 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova or unseeded American Danielle Collins in the final on Saturday. 

Going into Thursday's semifinal, Rybakina held a 3-0 record over Azarenka. Both players failed to convert their early break-point chances in the first set, but Rybakina broke first to lead 4-3. Azarenka continued to press in her return games, generating at least one break chance in two games, but could not break through. Rybakina protected her lead to seal the first set.

Azarenka was undeterred. Having seen her break chances come and go in the first set, the two-time Australian Open champion struck first in the second and raced through the set. With Rybakina's physical intensity wavering, Azarenka lost just two points on serve in the second set. One of those points was a double fault. 

Rybakina finally stopped Azarenka's seven-game run by holding serve at 1-1 in the third set. She steadied herself to earn the first break points of the final set. With Azarenka serving at 2-2, Rybakina earned a fifth break point in the game with a perfect backhand pass and converted her break after Azarenka buried a backhand into the net. Rybakina coolly consolidated the lead to 4-2.

Serving for the win at 5-4, Rybakina wiped out a break point with her 10th ace of the day, but Azarenka gritted out a lengthy baseline exchange to earn a second. Azarenka sealed the break with a speedy retrieval in the forecourt, which Rybakina volleyed into the net. 

In the tiebreak, Rybakina opened a 3-0 lead with yet another ace up the tee. This time, the 2022 Wimbledon champion did not let the lead slip, closing out the win after 2 hours and 30 minutes. 

"The whole match we were both fighting," Rybakina said. "I knew that in the tiebreak the only chance for me to win is just to switch off my mind and just try to go for it."

Rybakina finished the match with 40 winners, including 11 aces, to 43 unforced errors. Azarenka hit 28 winners to 29 unforced errors.

Rybakina has gone the distance in four of her five matches over the fortnight. She has lost 69 games, the most of dropped en route to the final since the tournament's inception in 1985. The previous mark was 67 games, set by Bianca Andreescu in 2021. 

"For sure I can take a lot from this tournament, a lot of positive," Rybakina said. "And also, in the beginning, these long matches were helping me to get back in shape.

"Now I'm not in shape just because I'm tired of all these long matches, but overall, it was really successful tournament no matter how I do in the final."

Road to the Final: Rybakina makes back-to-back finals in Miami