Abu Dhabi: No. 1 seed Elena Rybakina avoids shock exit after impressive comeback

Rybakina was close to losing to Collins in straight sets in the Abu Dhabi round-of-16.

by Dzevad Mesic
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Abu Dhabi: No. 1 seed Elena Rybakina avoids shock exit after impressive comeback
© Getty Images Sport - Christopher Pike

Elena Rybakina survived a major scare in her Abu Dhabi opener as the Kazakh was down by a set and also twice down by a break before creating an impressive comeback to beat 2022 Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins.

Rybakina, seeded at No. 1, had a first-round bye before taking on Collins, who made the Abu Dhabi main draw after winning two qualifying matches. Collins, a former world No. 7, entered the match as the underdog but she made Rybakina work very hard before the top-seeded Kazakh sealed a 4-6 6-3 6-3 win to make the Abu Dhabi quarterfinal.

By beating Collins, Rybakina, 24, improved to 3-1 in her head-to-head against the 30-year-old American. Since losing to Collins in 2021 San Jose, Rybakina has won their last meetings. 

Elena Rybakina
Elena Rybakina© Getty Images Sport - Christopher Pike
 

In the Abu Dhabi quarterfinal, Rybakina plays next against the winner of the match between Heather Watson and Cristina Bucsa.

How Rybakina came back to beat Collins?

Through the first four games of the match, not a single break point was seen. But that changed in the fifth game, when Collins earned the first break points and converted her second break point opportunity to go 3-2 up on Rybakina. 

After failing to clinch any break points on Collins' serve in the American's first four service games, Rybakina had 15-40 and managed to force two consecutive break points in the 10th game - the game in which the 2022 Australian Open finalist was serving for the first set. But Rybakina missed out on a chance to completely get back into the first set after losing the next four points. 

Down by a set, Rybakina also made a slow start to the second set, getting broken in the very first game of the set. Just when it seemed that Collins was pulling away, Rybakina managed to get her first break of the match and level the second set to one game apiece.

But soon after getting the break back, Rybakina again found herself down by a break after Collins broke the Kazakh in the fifth game for a 3-2 lead. Down by a set and a break again, Rybakina impressively responded by earning back-to-back breaks and winning the next four games to overturn a second-set deficit and force a third set. 

Elena Rybakina
Elena Rybakina© Getty Images Sport - Christopher Pike
 

After winning the second set, Rybakina also started the decider with a break but got broken back instantly in the second game. However, blowing an early third-set break didn't impact Rybakina, who broke Collins again in the fifth and ninth games to complete her big comeback win.

Rybakina ends Collins' last Abu Dhabi campaign

Collins, who turned 30 in December, out of the blue revealed after her Australian Open second-round loss to Iga Swiatek that this would be her final season on the WTA Tour. Although Collins battled some injuries in the last few years, there was no indication that the American was planning on retiring in the near future. 

This week, Collins came to Abu Dhabi for her fourth tournament of the year. After beating four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka in the Abu Dhabi first round, Collins confirmed that her retirement statement from Melbourne wasn't just something that was said in a moment. 

Although Collins is just 30, she hasn't been even a decade in pro tennis as she played college tennis before turning pro in 2016.

“Earlier this year around the holidays I decided this would be my last season. I’m feeling really happy about it and looking forward to it," Collins said in Abu Dhabi. 

“I haven’t been on tour that long, compared to some of the other players. Because I did go the college route, so I didn’t really start on tour until I was 22. In some ways it seems like it was just yesterday when I started playing and in other ways it seems like I’ve been out here for an eternity.”

Danielle Collins
Danielle Collins© Getty Images Sport - Christopher Pike
 

So far in her career, Collins has won two WTA titles and she also achieved a career-high ranking of No. 7 in 2022 July.

At the start of the 2022 season, Collins achieved her career-best result when she made the Australian Open before losing to home favorite Ashleigh Barty, who famously retired after that match. The second-best Grand Slam result of Collins' career also came at Melbourne Park as she was an Australian Open semifinalist in 2019. When it comes to other Grand Slam tournaments, Collins has just been to one French Open quarterfinal. 

“I certainly love my job and it’s been a rollercoaster of fun emotion. And there are also times that aren’t as fun. But just like with anything, you have that," Collins said.

“At this point I feel like I’m ready for the next chapter, and I’m really excited about it. I needed to have an end date and it gives my family and friends the ability to come support me in some final tournaments. I think that will be really special.”

Last month, Collins revealed that she would like to become a mother one day. Over the last few years, WTA players making successful post-pregnancy returns to tennis has become a positive trend. When asked if she could also one day return to tennis as a mom, Collins didn't shut the doors on that possibility.

“I mean never say never. I certainly love tennis and enjoy what tennis offers to my life and so I’d never say never. But it’s hard to really envision that right now. I guess I’m more just kind of focused on getting over that final hurdle," Collins said.

Elena Rybakina
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