Now that she’s conquered her rollercoaster anxieties, Elena Rybakina craves another ride to grand slam glory.
Rybakina enters Saturday night’s Australian Open final against Aryna Sabalenka feeling vastly more relaxed than she did before last year’s Wimbledon title match.
Chiefly because she reigned at the All England Club after enduring a nerve-wracking fortnight before breaking through for her maiden major.
“Everything was new at Wimbledon. Now I more or less understand what to expect,” the Russian-born Kazakh said.
Seven months after succeeding Ash Barty as Wimbledon champion, the 23-year-old is one win away from also following the retired Australian titleholder in getting her name etched on the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup at Melbourne Park.
Rybakina’s coach is banking on his charge’s experience of having already contested – and won – a grand slam title as being a “big factor” that gives her an edge against first-time major finalist Sabalenka.
“Once you go through the rollercoaster ride once, you know what to expect, more or less, emotionally,” Stefano Vukov said.
“For the team and for the player, definitely.”
Vukov says Rybakina has also improved physically and tactically since her Wimbledon triumph.
“We had a really, really good pre-season,” he said.
“So I was expecting for her to start doing well. Obviously you never know if you’re going to go this far, but, yeah, preparation was key.”
Rybakina’s mentor can’t really split his player and Sabalenka, believing serving will likely be the key.
“Aryna is extremely powerful player, great forehand. Can have a great serving day. Can have a bad serving day, something we will try to capitalise on,” Vukov said.
“Elena is a good rhythm player, so she can feed off the pace of Aryna also. I think on the backhand side we are a little bit stronger.
“But as a match-up, I mean, it’s going to be a lot of mistakes, a lot of winners. I’m sure about that, from both sides, because there is going to be a lot of pressure.
“I think who serves well goes through. That’s my feeling.”
Two Australians are also chasing a title on Saturday night, with wildcards Jason Kubler and Rinky Hijikata playing Monaco’s Hugo Nys and Poland’s Jan Zielinski in a most improbable Australian Open men’s doubles final.
Kubler and Hijikata teamed up for the first time at the Open and have taken out the No.1 and No.8 seeds in their past two matches, dropping only four games on each occasion.
No all-Australian pairing since the legendary Woodies – Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde – had won the Open men’s doubles in a quarter of a century until last year.
Now Kubler and Hijikata are looking to repeat the wildcard heroics of the Special Ks – Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis – from 2022.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t have picked it at the start of the week,” Hijikata said.
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