Rybakina Wins Again AS A Hot Match-Up Awaits In Italian Open Final
It was semi-final day in the WTA singles at the Italian Open as the surprise results continued. Anhelina Kalinina became the lowest-ranked player to reach the final since 1986 after she beat Veronika Kudermetova. She will face Elena Rybakina, who beat Jelena Ostapenko, in a showdown for the trophy. Paul Hassall was at the Foro Italico to soak it all up and look ahead to a bumper Saturday.
RYBAKINA SHRUGS OFF RAIN AND ANOTHER FORMER FRENCH OPEN CHAMPION
Another day, another rain delay at the 2023 Italian Open – but there was no stopping Elena Rybakina as she swept into her fourth final of the year.
The Kazakhstan star isn’t a player that would immediately spring to mind when it comes to picking out the leading ladies likely to make waves on clay, but her form in Rome could well make her a dark horse at Roland-Garros.
Notably, the 23-year-old Wimbledon champion stuck with two-time Rome winner and much-lauded Clay Queen, Iga Swiatek prior to the Pole’s injury in their quarter-final clash and she upset another former Roland-Garros champion (2017), Jelena Ostapenko here.
In a recent chat with the WTA website, the legendary Martina Navratilova actually tipped Ostapenko as an ‘Under-The-Radar’ player to watch heading into the clay swing of Madrid, Rome and Paris – but one of tennis’ GOATs didn’t mention Rybakina.
It may be that she simply wasn’t on the tip of Navratilova’s tongue, but there is a caveat to that, where the 66-year-old, 18-time (singles) major winner added: “You could have 15 different women win at Roland Garros this year. Twice as many could do some damage in Madrid and Rome, too.”
Let’s face it, a fit and firing Swiatek is a heavy favourite for a third French Open title, but Rybakina could well be a threatening presence in the draw and did reach the last eight in Paris back in 2021.
That discussion is for the near future; Rybakina’s present is the small matter of a WTA 1000 final against Kalinina where she will be the clear favourite for the first time in a couple of matches.
KALININA HANDLES STAGE BETTER TO BEAT KUDERMETOVA
When the Rome draw was made very few tennis aficionados would have picked out major underdog Anhelina Kalinina versus No.11 seed Veronika Kudermetova as a provisional last-four showdown.
It was a match-up that was also hard to call with the head-to-head standing at 1-1, a history of close contests at junior level and both players hitting a resurgence in form following a recent dip.
There was also the rather significant sub-plot of a Ukrainian taking on a Russian – with Kalinina previously stating that she was motivated to try to win matches at Wimbledon last year to earn money to help those impacted by the war in her homeland – and the Campo Centrale crowd were clearly pulling for the world No.47, Kalinina for much of the contest.
Sadly, the atmosphere lacked what one would hope for with a place in a final at stake and the stadium was littered with dots of white, empty seats.
Kalinina handled the stage the better of the two and had the chance to serve it out at 7-5 5-4 in the second but fluffed her lines. However, she remained the more consistent player in the decider to reach the first WTA 1000 final of her career with another near three-hour epic.
The 26-year-old has done it the hard way too, with the highlight seeing her sink No.2 seed and Madrid Open champion Aryna Sabalenka en route to the final.
Speaking on court following her 7-5 5-7 6-2 triumph, she said: “It’s really important to win every match, because of what Ukraine goes through. I really hope that I give a tiny, small light, maybe some positive emotions for my country. I really hope that Ukraine a little bit enjoys.”
It’s all happening on the penultimate day of the 2023 Italian Open with two blockbusting ATP semi finals more than whetting the appetite in the afternoon session, prior to the showpiece event of the WTA final that headlines the evening action under the lights.
In the men’s draw we should all be expecting some fireworks.
Both match-ups have history when it comes to a war of words interspersed with explosive tennis.
In one corner we have the all-Scandinavian affair as Norway’s Mr Nice Guy, Casper Ruud meets Denmark’s bad boy, Holger Rune.
Ruud leads the head-to-head 4-0 but it is what happened in the aftermath of their last encounter which makes the fifth instalment one to get the popcorn out for.
Rune suggested Ruud shouted in his face in the locker room after edging to a four-set triumph at last year’s French Open, which led the Norwegian to retort by calling the young Dane a liar and telling him to “grow up” in an interview with Eurosport Norway.
Ruud has since tried to downplay the incident: “It’s great to see that another Scandinavian is doing well and we had a little, what should we say, conflict there in Paris, in the French Open, but it’s nothing to dwell on.”
Rune’s rise has been so impressive that it could be argued he comes into their latest clash as the favourite to prevail and higher up in terms of clay-form power rankings ahead of Roland-Garros. Whatever happens, sparks may well fly, particularly if the younger Scandinavian is able to get under the skin of the routinely affable Ruud.
Hot on the heels of that clash is another last-four showdown with an added pinch of spice.
In fact, that may be a bit of an understatement. As Daniil Medvedev has previously said of his relationship with Stefanos Tsitsipas: “I think we respect each other as players but probably not much as people (big smile).”
Indeed, the Greek has called playing the Russian “boring” and suggested he is “not the most mature person”, while Medvedev has questioned the influence of Tsitsipas’ father throughout some of their encounters where coaching was not permitted.
This is their 12th meeting (Medvedev leads 7-4) and their third on clay (1-1) and it could well be another contest with plenty of needle given that there is a place in a Masters 1000 final on the line.
The contrast of Tsitsipas’ clear love of clay – backed up by some excellent results over the years – against a man who has openly expressed his disdain for the red dirt, also adds another fascinating subplot.
Medvedev had never won in Rome prior to this year’s tournament and his chances of going on to claim a maiden title on the surface should not be underestimated despite the fact last year’s finalist, Tsitsipas will be the favourite in many people’s eyes.