Dubai Premier 2020: Elina Rybakina beats another seed to reach fourth final of year

After beating Martic, Pliskova and Kenin, Rybakina faces No1 seed Halep for title

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
Simona Halep
Simona Halep (Photo: Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships)

The remarkable Elina Rybakina was a break down in both sets, and saved set-points in both tie-breaks, but after two and a quarter hours, the story of the tall woman from Kazakhstan continued to flourish.

She downed her third seed at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, beating No8 seed Petra Martic, 7-6(5), 7-6(2), to reach her fourth final of the year with her 19th match-win, the best statistics on the WTA tour so far this season.

Along the way to the final, she has scored her first win over a top-five opponent in No4 Karolina Pliskova, and beaten the Australian Open champion and No5 seed, Sofia Kenin.

This semi-final, though, was hard work, as all those matches began to weigh heavy in her legs, and Martic deployed her all-court variety to demand more energy from the unseeded challenger making her Dubai debut.

But while the two women ended the match with the same number of points, 97 apiece, Rybakina had gathered 32 winners for 23 errors to reach her second consecutive Premier final.

So the youngest champion of the year continues to consolidate her place as one of the best players of the season. Rybakina has now reached the final of four of the five tournaments she has played in 2020, winning Hobart, and finishing runner-up at the Shenzhen Open and in St Petersburg.

Dubai is her biggest final, and she will clearly have to regroup from her obvious fatigue if she is to claim her biggest title.

She smiled after this contest: “I’m so tired, but happy.

“I tried to work every point. Second set, of course, I was 3-0 down, but I knew it’s going to be easier to win this set than play a third one. I wanted to win the second so much.”

How has she managed to keep her energy levels up? She smiled again:

“I just sleep a lot. I tried to sleep a lot today. I played at 5pm, so it’s good.”

She will be grateful, then, for a 7pm final come Saturday. Even so, from a ranking of 192 a year ago, Rybakina this week entered the top 20 for the first time, and is already guaranteed a further career-high of around 17.

But now the test will come from the top seed in the tournament, the former champion, and one of the fittest women in tennis, Simona Halep—who, incidentally, was about to play only her third match this week after enjoying a first-round bye.

And that was bad news for her semi opponent, qualifier Jennifer Brady, ranked 52, and about to play her seventh match.

For the American had to come through a tough qualifying draw to take her place among a 30-women draw topped by four of the five highest ranked women in tennis, where all eights seeds ranked in the top 16.

But Brady was in the form of her life. She began her season by beating world No1 Ashleigh Barty in Brisbane, and then upset former two-time champion Elina Svitolina in the first round of Dubai’s main draw having not dropped a set through qualifying. She went on to beat the 2019 French Open finalist, Marketa Vondrousova, and it took another fight back from a set down to beat Garbine Muguruza.

In total, Brady had spent over nine hours on court compared to Halep’s three and a half hours. And it was immediately clear that Halep meant business, and she had Brady on a piece of string almost from the off.

The Romanian, who reached the semis at the Australian Open, broke straight away, and once she had fended off break-back points, she broke again for 4-1 and served out the set, 6-2. Her tennis then hit the heights with winners coming off both wings, and Brady could make no real inroads into the scampering defence of Halep either.

Indeed Brady would win just 12 points in the set as she was broken three times, ultimately forced to bow to Halep’s outstanding tennis, 6-0. It had taken barely an hour, and while her run will catapult Brady to a career-high well inside the top 50, it is Halep who will go for her 20th career title come Saturday evening.

Halep has faced Rybakina only once before, when she conceded defeat by retirement in Wuhan. Now she relishes the rematch:

“It’s amazing what she’s done already this year. I saw her a little bit during some matches. She has a big serve. I have to pay attention on my return and be like today: confident, aggressive if there is a chance, just fighting. It’s the best thing to do now.”

She concluded:

“It’s a final. It’s always a nice opportunity and privilege to play the last match of the tournament. I play for another trophy, so I’m relaxed. I’m focused. I really want it.”

It will take another extraordinary effort from Rybakina to deny her.

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