MIAMI -- The bottom-line results might suggest Elena Rybakina is as comfortable in south Florida as her numerous rivals who actually live here. On Saturday, she’ll play in her second straight Miami Open final against Florida native Danielle Collins.

A year ago, Rybakina came off a title at Indian Wells and swept into the championship match before falling to Petra Kvitova. But truth be told, the past few weeks have been a struggle.

“I was not expecting honestly to be in the final,” the No.4 seed told reporters Thursday, “because I was not prepared that well for this tournament.”

Indeed, Rybakina didn’t play a single match at the BNP Paribas Open because of a gastrointestinal issue. After eight days without playing, she’s put together a gut-wrenching (sorry) series of matches.

Rybakina has played five matches here and four of them have gone the distance. The 24-year-old who represents Kazakhstan has spent more than 11 hours on court. 

On Thursday, Rybakina defeated Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 0-6, 7-6 (2) and, against all logic, seems to be getting stronger.

Strong falls short of what we’ve seen from the unseeded Collins. She torched No.14 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-3, 6-2 and is into her first WTA Tour 1000 final.

This is an all-or-nothing matchup. Rybakina and Collins have hit the most winners at the Miami Open, 177 and 149, respectively.

Who has the edge? We make the case for both players.

Advantage, Rybakina

Rybakina isn't sure how she's still here, preparing to play her second WTA 1000 final of the year. Yes, she has titles in Brisbane and Abu Dhabi and reached a final in Doha in 2024, but she's been fragile. She couldn't defend her Indian Wells title two weeks ago and admits she was undercooked going into Miami.

She's been taken to three sets in four of her five matches, scraping past No.92 Clara Tauson, No.72 Taylor Townsend, No.9 Maria Sakkari and No.32 Victoria Azarenka. Rybakina has lost 69 games in five matches, the most en route to the Miami final since the tournament's inception in 1985.

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

But … the wins have come and that's a big breakthrough for Rybakina. She's a player who builds her confidence through extended training blocks before big swings or tournaments. When she arrives at an event less than 100 percent, she has struggled to manufacture the belief needed to take home big titles.

“For this kind of game, I need to be prepared physically, to also push myself, have a good serve,” Rybakina said after her last match.

That's why this event has felt like a breakthrough for Rybakina, who Saturday is set to play her fifth 1000-level final. Since the start of the 2023 season, only Swiatek has made as many. At 24, she's the youngest woman to make consecutive Miami finals since Maria Sharapova in 2005 and 2006.

Rybakina is 4-3 in her career in finals, but she’s never lost to a player ranked outside the Top 20 in a championship match. Two of those losses came to No.1 Iga Swiatek and No.2 Aryna Sabalenka.

In her career, Rybakina is 3-1 against Collins and has won their past three. Collins' sole win came all the way back in 2021 when Rybakina was ranked No.20.

This is a power-for-power matchup, and it sets up nicely for Rybakina. For all her talk of fatigue, she'll have a much-needed day of rest Friday. She'll be raring to go on Saturday. -- Courtney Nguyen

Advantage, Collins

This is a power matchup, Courtney, and I think Collins has the ability to win this one.

“To have made the finals, first finals of a 1000 level in my home state during my last season, this is just great,” she told reporters. “I mean, the memories made this week on and off the court, yeah, I’m just over the moon.

“A day off tomorrow, hit the golf course, play a little tennis. Living the dream. Living the dream in Miami.”

Collins stepped in against Alexandrova, who has a similarly aggressive game, and pounded her pretty good. Crowding the baseline, she hit 21 winners. And look at these service numbers:

First-serve points won: 19-for-24.

Second-serve points won: 17-for-23.

That’s good -- very good -- for an aggregate of 77 percent.

The head-to-head record is daunting, sure, but it’s worth mentioning that those three Rybakina wins have all come in three sets.

It feels like there’s some destiny in play here, after Collins, 30, announced early on that this would be her last season. 

The last player to reach her first WTA 1000 final after 30-plus opportunities was Camila Giorgi three years ago in Montreal. Collins is also the first unseeded American to reach the Miami Open final. Ranked No.53, she’s the second-lowest seed since Naomi Osaka (No.77) to reach the final in the tournament’s 39-year history.

Collins is a streaky player, as evidenced by her run to the 2022 Australian Open final. And Courtney, there’s no question, she’s streaking at the moment.

“I’m looking forward to playing Elena,” Collins said. “We have had a lot of great matches previously, some battles. That’s what we play for as professional athletes, these close ones. Every time I have played her, it's neck and neck. 

“I think we will go out there and put on a great show and it will be a fun match.” -- Greg Garber