Rybakina Ends Swiatek’s Stuttgart Title Reign With Semifinal Triumph

Elena Rybakina (photo: Porsche AG)

STUTTGART/WASHINGTON, April 20, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

As semifinal Saturday arrived at the 47th edition of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, three Grand Slam champions and an unseeded player remained in the chase for the grand prize of a brand-new Porsche Taycan 4S Sports Turismo. The flashy sports car, awarded to the titlist, is a nice incentive in addition to the $123,480 first-prize money and 500 WTA Ranking points that go to the champion of the annual WTA 500 indoor clay-court tournament.

In the opening semifinal, World No. 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek of Poland and World No. 4 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan met for the sixth time but only the second on clay after Rome last year. The Polish superstar has dominated Stuttgart the past two years and brought a 10-match winning streak into the match, looking to become the first three-peat champion at the event since Maria Sharapova from 2012-14.

While the former Wimbledon champion Rybakina held a 3-2 career head-to-head advantage against the four-time major titlist, and was looking to reach her fifth final of the season, it would take a three-set Herculean effort but she was up to the task. Rybakina beat Swiatek, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, in two hours and 49 minutes before a sold-out Porsche Arena crowd of 4,200 fans.

With her latest triumph over a No. 1-ranked player, the 24-year-old Rybakina has now defeated a World No. 1 player five times – four times against Swiatek. Also, she has advanced to her fifth final of 2024. Thus far, the Russian-born Kazakh has garnered titles in Adelaide and Abu Dhabi, while reaching the finals in Doha and Miami.

As it happened in Stuttgart, Rybakina began the opening set down 0-2 but won six of the next seven games to capture the 49-minute opening set 6-3. It took her five set points to put it away with a fifth-shot cross-court backhand winner. Then, Swiatek recovered in the 56-minute second set and broke Rybakina in the 10th game to win 6-4. It was on to a one-set decider to determine the first semifinal, where Rybakina had won 10 straight three-setters.

Soon, Swiatek fought off five break points to hold for 2-1. It came during a five-deuce, 16-point third game that stretched over 13 minutes. However, Rybakina moved ahead with a break of Swiatek in the fifth game for a 3-2 advantage as she began to wear down the reigning Stuttgart champion. Then, she held serve in her next two service games but was forced to save a break point during a pair of 10-point nail biters to lead 5-3.

Next, Swiatek saved a match point at 30-40 of the ninth game after Rybakina went for broke and sailed a second-shot cross-court backhand wide. However, on her second match point opportunity, Rybakina seized the moment and won the match after Swiatek hit a ninth-shot forehand that landed well beyond the baseline.

“It’s always of course tough to play against Iga, and I feel like we are pushing each other until the limits,” Rybakina said after her quarterfinal win Friday. “Of course I want to win, but I need to be also realistic. She’s very good player on clay. She’s maybe a little bit more favorite now. But if I play well, I serve well, I move good, I have all the chances.”

Rybakina, whose first serve Saturday was clocked as high as 191 kilometers per hour, struck 10 aces and hit 38 winners to 39 unforced errors. She converted four of 20 break points and outpointed Swiatek 108-103. Swiatek countered with 32 winners of her own and two breaks of Rybakina’s serve in 13 attempts. However, she also committed 42 unforced errors.

“It was, like always, a very tough match,” Rybakina admitted afterward. “I think my serve helped me in the most important moments. I was fighting for every ball. … I’m happy I managed to win.”

Swiatek admitted in her news conference that Rybakina “played better than me, obviously.

“It’s hard right now for me to analyze what specifically was better. For sure she served better. I didn’t serve well in the third set.

“Yeah, so that’s a shame, but at least I know what I can work on and be focused on that.”

Later, in her news conference, Rybakina added: “I think just because also you play against such a good player that you know that every point counts, and I was pushing myself.”

By the end of the afternoon, Swiatek’s 10-match winning streak in Stuttgart had been erased – eliminating her chance of a three-peat and a piece of Stuttgart history. Instead, Rybakina, who revealed in her on-court interview that she doesn’t have a driver’s license, remains in the chase for the shiny new Porsche.

In Sunday’s final, Rybakina will face No. 27 Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine. A day after upsetting World No. 3 and reigning US Open champion Coco Gauff, Kostyuk upended 2023 Wimbledon titlist and current World No. 8 Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, 7-6 (2), 6-2, in one hour and 35 minutes for her third Top-10 win this week in Stuttgart.

Earlier this week, she also beat World No. 7 Zheng Qinwen of China, saving five match points, and was pushed to three sets and three hours by Laura Siegemund in her first-round match match.

The 21-year-old Kostyuk hit 28 winners to overcome 38 unforced errors, converted four of seven break points against the Czech lefty and outpointed Vondrousova 77-66.

The semifinal victory over Vondrousova, the first that Kostyuk finished in under two-plus hours, advanced her into her second final of the season following her run in San Diego.

“Anything can happen, and I’m happy I finished this match in two sets,” Kostyuk said in her on-court interview. “I can well remember losing my first 14 matches against Top 10 players. That I’ve now beaten three in a week is pretty crazy.”

Asked by on-court interviewer Andrea Petkovic if she had a driver’s license, Kostyuk beamed a big smile and replied, “Yes. Of course, I do!”

Around the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

Playing for just the second time as a team following a quarterfinal run earlier this month in Charleston, Hao-Ching “Angel” Chan of Taiwan and Veronika Kudermetova of Russia advanced to the doubles title match with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the United States and Zhang Shuai of China in an hour and 20 minutes.

Chan and Kudermetova combined to hit 17 winners, saved all four break points they faced, converted three of eight break points and outpointed their opponents 58-47.

“We played really well today,” Chan, a 20-time doubles titlist, said in an on-court interview after the semifinal win. “The match was close and we won the important points.”

Kudermetova, who has won seven doubles titles with a variety of partners, added: “Everything seemed to work for us.”

In Sunday’s final, Chan and Kudermetova will face Ulrikke Eikeri of Norway and Ingrid Neel of Estonia, who advanced by walkover against No. 2 seeds Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic and Laura Siegemund of Germany, after Siegemund was forced to pull out with a lower back injury.

By the numbers

Elena Rybakina has won two of her seven WTA Tour titles on clay. The Kazakh triumphed at the WTA 1000 tournament in Rome in 2023 and previously in Bucharest back in 2019.

• According to the WTA Tour website, Elena Rybakina is the first player to reach five finals in the season’s first four months since Victoria Azarenka achieved the feat in 2012.

“Quotable …”

“I actually don’t have a driver’s license! So, that’s going to be the goal. I’ve waited a long time!”

Elena Rybakina, during her on-court interview after defeating Iga Swiatek Saturday, when asked if she likes to drive as fast as she serves a tennis ball. The Porsche Tennis Grand Prix winner receives a brand-new Porsche sports car.