Hopes were high for Elena Rybakina at the US Open. Her form in recent months had been mixed overall, but she reached the final of the previous Grand Slam to be played on a hard court at the Australian Open. Her powerful brand of tennis is difficult for any player to stop when she finds her range.
However, Rybakina’s hopes and dreams at Flushing Meadows will now have to wait for at least another year. Last year’s Wimbledon champion has been knocked out in the third round by Sorana Cirstea. The contest was Cirstea’s fourth appearance in the third round of the US Open, but she had never been beyond that stage. That has changed after this shock result.
Details of the match
Cirstea showed authority from the very start of the match. The Romanian was the more comfortable player in the baseline rallies, doing an excellent job of absorbing and re-directing the pace from Rybakina’s hard and flat shots. She soon found the crucial break of serve on the Kazakh’s serve. The set was sealed comfortably after that to give Cirstea a 6-3 lead. Rybakina suffered another immediate setback in the first game of the second set, when a string of unforced errors gave Cirstea an immediate break of serve.
However, the fourth seed then managed to dig in and fight. More consistency from the baseline saw Rybakina retrieve the break of serve. The recent Montreal Masters semifinalist began to put more pressure on her impressive opponent. Rybakina unleashed a string of powerful shots to give herself three break point chances in the sixth game. However, Cirstea stood up to the task in sublime fashion, saving all three with a mixture of big serving and heavy hitting from the back of the court. The Romanian then held her nerve even more impressively at 6-5, saving two set points on her serve.
The tiebreak was an extraordinary one. Rybakina raced into a 4-0 lead, before Cirstea won the next four points. Rybakina wasted two set points at 6-6, but two excellent points from the Wimbledon winner sealed the set narrowly in her favour.
The Final Set
Many would have expected the fourth seed to take control after that. But it did not happen. The pair exchanged breaks to leave the score at 4-3. Rybakina still did not look comfortable throughout the set, and was below her best. Rybakina then played a terrible service game at 4-3, being broken to 15 to leave Cirstea with an opportunity to close out the match. The Romanian faltered on her serve, and the score moved to 5-4.
However, the higher-ranked woman faltered once more on her usually reliable serve. Cirstea only needed one match point to get the decisive break and seal a memorable 6-3 6-7 6-4 win.
Main Photo Credit: Eric Bolte – USA TODAY Sports