As this year’s French Open continues to provide upset after upset, Elena Rybakina stole the headlines yesterday as she comprehensively defeated Serena Williams in straight sets.
Few had given the Kazakhstani player a chance in the build-up, with the narrative naturally lending itself towards the US star’s hunt for a record-equalling 24th major title.
But, in truth, those who have followed the progress of Rybakina might not see this result as a shock at all. Still just 21 years old, she has two WTA titles to her name and has rapidly risen through the rankings to be hovering around the top 20.
Standing at six foot tall, the world number 22 has a formidable serve, a strong forehand and effortless power to match. Despite failing to reach further than the third round of a Grand Slam prior to Roland-Garros, it has always seemed a matter of time before the pieces clicked into place at a major tournament.
A former world number three junior, her talent has been well-known for some time. Indeed, the Russian-born youngster played on the ITF tour at the age of just 14 and has competed on the WTA circuit since she was 19 years old.
Having won her first event in 2019 at the Bucharest Open, 2020 proved to be a breakout year for Rybakina as she claimed her second title at the Hobart International and reached five finals in total.
This season has seen that form waver slightly and prior to the French Open the youngster had recorded just one win on clay in Madrid.
Yet, the 21-year-old has found a new gear in Paris. In four matches, she is yet to drop a set and no player has even managed to force a tie break so far. To an extent, this appears to mirror the remarkable run of defending champion Iga Świątek last year. A young player with bags of raw talent, who could simply play with freedom.
Aside from her impressive singles run, the Kazakhstani player remains in the hunt for a women’s doubles title as well. Partnered with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the two play their third-round match today against Demi Schuurs and Nicole Melichar.
While partners today, Rybakina will face Pavlyuchenkova tomorrow in the singles quarter-finals. The Russian has seen off strong opposition herself in Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka, so this promises to be an intriguing matchup.
Given the way this tournament has gone to date, it seems hard to pick a winner. Regardless of the result though, Rybakina is no longer a star in the making, but a Grand Slam contender.