Entering this year’s French Open, Serena Williams had failed to reach the quarterfinals of the event every year since 2016. She reached the final that year, where she fell to Garbine Muguruza, but the all-time great has struggled at the clay Major since then. She missed 2017 while pregnant with her daughter, and in 2018-2020 she reached the fourth, third, and second rounds respectively.
This year seemed different, though. Williams was playing well in her first few matches, and improved as the tournament went on. She battled past the very tough Danielle Collins in the third round, and finally looked like she might win another title here. With a rash of upsets and withdrawals, Serena Williams found herself entering her fourth-round match as the only Top 20 player in her half of the draw.
Unfortunately for her, the American had to find a way through Elena Rybakina first. Rybakina entered the French Open in very poor form. The Kazakh last reached a semifinal at any tournament in September 2020. Before the 2020 pandemic break, Rybakina looked like a rising star. That form entirely disappeared since, including through this year.
Serena Williams vs Elena Rybakina
The match did not last too much longer than an hour, and honestly wasn’t a classic one, as most upsets of Serena Williams are. Rybakina controlled the match from start to finish. Williams did the best she could to put pressure on Rybakina, but this match was entirely on the Kazakh’s racket.
From the start, it was clear that Rybakina controlled the rallies. She didn’t do it by blasting Williams off the court, as so many have tried to do over the years and failed. Instead, Rybakina moved Williams around and never let the American control the rallies. Rybakina played with depth and spin, and kept the all-time great moving side to side and not on position to tee off on groundstrokes.
Rybakina earned a break early in the first set and held serve for a 4-1 lead. The Kazakh, in her first career Grand Slam fourth round, clearly wasn’t overly comfortable playing with a lead. She struggled on serve at times when she had a lead, letting Williams break back for 4-3 in the opening set. Rybakina was comfortable on return, though, breaking Williams right back with some more precise and deep play, and this time she held to take the set.
The same pattern repeated itself in the second set. Rybakina went up a break twice, but both times struggled on serve immediately after, letting Williams back in the match. The Kazakh did have to serve from behind at 4-5, but she held without trouble and immediately hit some brilliant returns to put all of the pressure on Williams. A double fault by Williams have Rybakina three break points; she took the first with a strong return and earned the chance to serve for the match.
This time, Rybakina showed no nerves. The final game, like the vast majority of the match, was without drama. Rybakina will move on to her first French Open quarterfinal with a 6-3 7-5 win over the three-time champion.
Serena was never considered a real favorite for this tournament, so there’s no disappointment like in her last few Slam finals. Her chase for the elusive Major #24 continues, but the American will have liked her chances at Wimbledon and the US Open better anyway.
Rybakina will now move on to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. She will find herself in a very winnable match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The once-rising star in women’s tennis is rising once more, and Elena Rybakina will make a name for herself in this tournament.
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