Last year’s Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina looked to continue her upward trajectory after a breakthrough 2022 season. Did she match or exceed those heights in 2023, or did her level fall? This article reviews the Kazakh star’s performances throughout the season.
Elena Rybakina 2023 Season Review
Rybakina’s Grand Slam highlight came at the Australian Open. After comfortably winning her opening two contests in straight sets, she defeated the 2022 runner-up in Melbourne, Danielle Collins. That set up a fourth-round battle with world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, but Rybakina played superbly to triumph 6-4 6-4. After another two-set win against Jelena Ostapenko, she played two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka in the semis. Although both sets were close, the 24-year-old reached the final by prevailing 7-6 6-3. The final against Aryna Sabalenka was one of the best matches of 2023. However, Rybakina lost a thrilling contest 6-4 3-6 4-6 to narrowly miss out on the title.
Despite not matching the heights of last year, the defending Wimbledon champion had a solid run this year at SW19. After losing the opening set in the first round against Shelby Rogers, Rybakina did not drop another set on her way to the quarterfinal. She overcame Rogers, Alize Cornet, Katie Boulter, and Beatriz Haddad Maia, although the Kazakh benefited from Haddad Maia retiring in the first set with an injury. Rybakina’s run was ended by Ons Jabeur in the quarters, who avenged last year’s final loss.
The French Open ended in frustration for the five-time WTA champion. She had to withdraw from Roland-Garros before her third-round due to an illness that left her struggling for breath. The US Open was the only significantly disappointing Grand Slam in 2023 for the Australian Open runner-up. Rybakina suffered a shock defeat to Sorana Cirstea in the third-round.
WTA 1000 Events
Rybakina, who had never previously won a WTA 1000 tournament, broke new ground at those events in 2023. Despite a difficult draw, she had a phenomenal run to a maiden WTA 1000 title in Indian Wells, only dropping one set along the way. Rybakina defeated former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and French Open runner-up Karolina Muchova on the way to the semifinal. She then demolished Iga Swiatek in the semis before getting revenge against Sabalenka in the final to triumph in Indian Wells.
Rybakina won a second WTA 1000 title in Rome. However, there was a greater amount of luck involved compared to her heroics in Indian Wells. Rybakina benefited from three retirements in six matches in Rome. Nonetheless, the Kazakh still deserves credit for securing victories against Jasmine Paolini, Marketa Vondrousova, and Jelena Ostapenko.
The 24-year-old also backed up the title in Indian Wells with a run to the final in Miami. This included a semifinal win against Jessica Pegula, but two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova was too strong in the final, with Rybakina falling 6-7 2-6.
Despite strong performances at the Grand Slam and WTA 1000 level, Rybakina struggled at WTA 250s and 500s. The 14-time WTA finalist did not make a final in any of the six events she played at those levels. Rybakina also failed to get out of the group stage at the WTA Finals. She beat Maria Sakkari, but exited after defeats to Pegula and Sabalenka.
Despite not winning a Grand Slam, 2023 is a year Rybakina can be very proud of. Winning her first two WTA 1000 events was a great achievement, and she came very close to adding a second Grand Slam title. She will hope her powerful brand of tennis can take that extra step at a Grand Slam in 2024.
Main Photo Credit: Eric Bolte – USA TODAY Sports