Kazakhstan s Elena Rybakina plays a forehand return to Poland s Iga Swiatek in their semifinal match at the 2023 WTA Indian Wells Open on March 17, 2023. AFP
“I’m pretty sad that I lost,” Swiatek said.
Rybakina will play second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka, who beat Maria Sakkari 6-2, 6-3, in Sunday's final in the Southern California desert.
“It’s going to be huge,” said Sabalenka, who won the doubles title in 2019. “This tournament feels like a Grand Slam. I really want to hold this trophy as a singles champion.”
Rybakina needed just 76 minutes to finish off Swiatek, the defending champion. She won 82% of her first-serve points, while Swiatek only managed 42%. Rybakina also beat the Polish star at the Australian Open in January on her way to finishing runner-up.
“I didn’t expect that I was going to play that good today,” Rybakina said. “I had nothing to lose, I just wanted to come and enjoy. I played one of the best matches this year.”
Swiatek had won 10 straight matches in the desert until being stopped by Rybakina's powerful groundstrokes that repeatedly rushed Swiatek and forced her into uncharacteristic errors.
Swiatek double-faulted to lose the first set. Then she fell behind 5-0 in the second before rallying to win two games.
“I feel like I can play great tennis even against players who are serving pretty fast and everything,” she said. “But for sure the last couple of matches against Elena, they weren’t perfect for me.”
Swiatek said her rib was bothering her during the match.
“I still have to run some tests and see what's going on. I don't know yet,” she said, adding that for now she plans to play next week in Miami.
Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion, improved to 17-1 this year.
She leads Rybakina 4-0 in their career meetings, but all four have gone to a deciding set, including in the final Down Under.
“It was a really close match in Australia,” Rybakina said on court. “If I’m going to play like I did today, I think I have all the chances.”
Sabalenka took control against Sakkari, seeded seventh, from the start. She attacked the Greek's second serve, winning 20 of 26 points off it. Sakkari, runner-up in last year's final, fell to 3-5 in her career against Sabalenka.
Sakkari reached the semifinals by rallying from a set down three times and going 4-0 in deciding sets.
But Sabalenka was too dominant. She won the final three games, including two service breaks, to take the first set, 6-2.
Sabalenka led 2-0 in the second before Sakkari tied it 2-all. From there, Sabalenka won four of the final five games to close out the match in 1 1/2 hours.
“Just super happy right now,” Sabalenka said on court. "Maria’s such a great player and I knew it was going to be tough.”
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