Elena Rybakina, 24, pulls off very impressive Maria Sharapova feat in Miami

Rybakina makes back-to-back Miami finals and also emulates a Sharapova feat.

by Dzevad Mesic
Elena Rybakina, 24, pulls off very impressive Maria Sharapova feat in Miami
© Getty Images Sport - Megan Briggs

Elena Rybakina returned to the Miami Open final and achieved a very impressive feat as the 24-year-old Kazakh is the youngest player since Russian tennis legend Maria Sharapova to make back-to-back finals in Miami, via OptaAce. 

On Thursday, No. 4 seed Rybakina survived a real marathon and went through a couple of challenging moments before sealing a 6-4 0-6 7-6 (2) win over former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka. As a reward for her win over Azarenka, the 24-year-old Kazakh gets to play in another Miami final. 

Elena Rybakina
Elena Rybakina© Getty Images Sport - Al Bello

After winning her first WTA 1000 title in Indian Wells last year, Rybakina also made her first Miami final. Although Rybakina was considered the favorite against Petra Kvitova and many expected her to complete the Sunshine Double, it didn't happen after she lost to the Czech. 

But this year, Rybakina has another strong shot at winning Miami. 

In 2005, Sharapova was still 17 when she made her first Miami final before losing to Kim Clijsters. The following year, Sharapova made another Miami final but again lost - this time to Svetlana Kuznetsova. 

Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova© Getty Images Sport - Al Bello

Nearly two decades, 24-year-old Rybakina is the youngest player since Sharapova to reach back-to-back finals in Miami. 

Rybakina showed great mental strength late in the match

After breaking Azarenka in the fifth game of the third set and later opening a 5-3 lead, it seemed that Rybakina was about to routinely close out the match because at that point she hadn't faced any break points in the decider. But then, Rybakina faced two break points when serving for the match in the 10th game and Azarenka managed to get the break back and that's how the third set eventually went into a tie-break. 

After failing to serve out for the match, some players suffer a mental collapse and go on to lose the match. But that didn't happen to Rybakina, who started the third-set tie-break with a 3-0 lead before also clinching five consecutive match points at 6-1. The 2022 Wimbledon champion didn't convert her first match point but made no mistake on her second point to complete a win over the Belarusian two-time Grand Slam champion.

In her press, Rybakina shared that in those moments she didn't think much but just focused on her serve and return.

"Well, yeah, I had a similar situation with Maria (Sakkari in the Miami quarterfinal), also new balls, and I was serving for the match. I made it with her, but I knew that sometimes it's not going to go the same," Rybakina said after the match.

"I was trying of course to focus on the serve, but she was reading the serve well and returning these couple of longer rallies.

"Well, I was just trying to keep on fighting, and of course she had also this momentum. The whole match we were both fighting. I knew that in the tiebreak the only chance for me to win is just to switch off my mind and just try to go for it.

"I served really well. I think it was almost all the serve from the first one. Really happy that I managed to start the tiebreak better, and it just went well in the end."

Elena Rybakina
Elena Rybakina© Getty Images Sport - Megan Briggs

Rybakina: The hard courts of Miami aren't actually the best for me 

When a player reaches back-to-back finals at a certain tournament, in most cases it is a huge indication that they really enjoy playing there. In Rybakina's case, she has made two finals in her four tournament appearances but she doesn't consider the hard courts of Miami as the ideal for her.

"Honestly, even coming to this tournament, I was saying that this is not the maybe best hard court and this is not the courts I feel the best. It was the same last year when I came from Indian Wells. It was a lot of tough matches," Rybakina revealed.

"I was coming with a lot of wins, but also, from the beginning, it was very difficult for me to play here. And the same this year. So I won't say that this is the best hard court feeling for me."

Elena Rybakina
Elena Rybakina© Getty Images Sport - Megan Briggs

For the Miami title, Rybakina will be battling against 2022 Australian Open finalist and home favorite Danielle Collins, who is playing in Miami for the last time since the 30-year-old American is retiring this year. Collins has dropped just one set en route to making the Miami final and Rybakina certainly won't be taking the former world No. 7 for granted. 

Going into the Miami final, Rybakina owns a 3-1 head-to-head against Collins and she will try to clinch her fourth win over the American and also seal the Miami title in the process.

Elena Rybakina Maria Sharapova