Rybakina Rides Off In Brand-New Porsche After Winning In Stuttgart

Elena Rybakina (photo: Porsche AG)

STUTTGART/WASHINGTON, April 21, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

Elena Rybakina came into her Porsche Tennis Grand Prix final against Marta Kostyuk Sunday afternoon with her eye on the grand prize: a Porsche Taycan 4S Sport Turismo electric car.

Although Rybakina has yet to secure her driver’s license, winning the car that goes to the champion of this WTA 500 indoor clay-court tournament was certainly an incentive to drive into action on the tennis court.

“I wanted to do it already for a long time, but I never have a chance to be at one place for long,” Rybakina explained Saturday, after defeating two-time defending champion Iga Swiatek in the semifinal round. It quashed the World No. 1’s chances of a three-peat in Stuttgart and to add a third Porsche to her collection. “I did already a couple of lessons. I was driving, but for sure that’s the goal this year outside of the court.

“And with this car, if I win, it’s going to be one double goal.”

The World No. 4 Rybakina from Kazakhstan, the only player to beat both No. 1 Swiatek and No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka this season, wasted little time in defeating No. 27 Kostyuk of Ukraine, 6-2, 6-2 in 69 minutes to collect her WTA Tour-leading 26th victory and third title of the season in five finals – and to win her first Porsche sports car.

In Saturday’s semifinals, Rybakina surprised Swiatek, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, which snapped the Polish superstar’s 10-match winning streak inside Porsche Arena, and Kostyuk won her third straight match over a Top-10 opponent with a 7-6 (2), 6-2 victory over reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova to set up the title match.

While Rybakina had been pushed to three sets in each of her three previous matches, against No. 19 Veronika Kudermetova, No. 14  Jasmine Paolini and Swiatek, she made quick work against Kostyuk from the outset.

From breaking Kostyuk’s serve at love in the opening game, there was no stopping Rybakina, 24, whose confidence increased game by game. She won the first set in double-break fashion way by applying the right touch on all of her shots. Rybakina garnered all but one of her first-serve points while outpointing her opponent 30-17.

Next, the second set began just like the first one did for Rybakina. Quickly, she broke Kostyuk after the Ukrainian committed one of her six double faults. Ahead 3-2, Rybakina faced her only real challenge of the match but saved three break points during a six-deuce, 18-point game. She held for 4-2 with a solid serve out wide that Kostyuk was unable to return.

Then, Kostyuk hit back-to-back double faults and was broken after Rybakina stroked a 12th-shot backhand winner to go ahead 5-2. By this time, the Porsche title – and the Porsche car – were in clear focus.

While Kostyuk prolonged the inevitable conclusion by saving three championship points during the final 10-point game, Rybakina won on her fourth championship point after Kostyuk hit a sixth-shot backhand long.

Soon, Rybakina sat in the passenger seat of her prized Porsche, as it was driven from its display platform behind the baseline onto the court. The new champion, relaxed and beaming a big smile, soaked in the applause and admiration from the sell-out crowd of 4,200 fans that filled Porsche Arena and happily posed for photos with her newest trophy and shiny grand prize.

“I’m really happy with all the matches I played here throughout the week, especially in the final,” Rybakina said in her champion’s news conference. “[It] was very solid from me.”

Rybakina finished by winning 81 percent of her first-serve points, saved all three break points she faced, converted four of six break-points chances and outpointed her opponent 64-42. Kostyuk won just 56 percent of her first-serve points, committed 15 unforced errors and, thanks to Rybakina, made 34 forced errors.

“I knew that I have to be focused from the beginning, and also, compare the match with Iga, it’s a lot different,” Rybakina explained “Marta is coming forward, trying to take the ball early. She moves well. But still, the speed is different, and I was focusing not to rush, also to try to open the angle.

“Also, sometimes the ball is coming slow, and you kind of think that you can hit through, but in the end, it’s very difficult conditions here. So I was trying just to be patient, and yeah, I think I did a really good job from the beginning until the end.”

During her news conference, a tired but proud Kostyuk said: “I couldn’t produce a fight. You know, she was really on top today. Overall, obviously very proud of myself this week.”

Indeed, it was a week the 21-year-old Ukrainian won’t soon forget. After surviving a three-hour-plus three-set match to advance over German wild card Laura Siegemund, Kostyuk strung together a trio of Top-10 wins, first over No. 7 Zheng Qinwen of China, then No. 3 Coco Gauff of the United States, and finally No. 8 Marketa Vondrousova to reach the final. By the time she finished the title match against Rybakina, it was apparent that Kostyuk looked and played fatigued. However, spending more than 11 hours on court and playing 13 sets of tennis will do that even to the best of players.

“I didn’t know what to expect from myself on the court today, because really me being able to pull off this whole week and play an amazing tennis yesterday was something incredible and something I would never expect I can do,” Kostyuk admitted.

“But today, you know, obviously I was very nervous. I wanted to win a lot this one, and yeah, I think there were a lot of things together. Yeah, I just couldn’t probably bear it anymore. …

“I definitely want to come back as there’s nothing more painful than losing a final where there’s a Porsche at stake.”

As Rybakina wound down her news conference, there were couple of lingering questions still in need of answers: What to do about the new Porsche she had just won, and would Elena finally get her driver’s license?

“Well, I don’t know yet,” Rybakina said, smiling as she spoke. “For sure I will drive it around, and we are thinking to have it in Dubai. So, it’s going to be for sure Stefano (her coach Stefano Vukov) driving, maybe my mom. Hopefully me soon.”

Should Rybakina successfully defend her Stuttgart title in 2025, then she’ll be able to drive the winner’s Porsche herself onto Centre Court after the final.

Chan and Kudermetova win first doubles title together a team

Unseeded Hao-Ching Chan of Taiwan and Veronika Kudermetova of Russia rallied from a set and a break down in the doubles final to defeat Ulrikke Eikeri of Norway and Ingrid Neel of Estonia, 4-6, 6-3, 10-2, to win their first title together as a team.

Chan and Kudermetova combined to hit 28 winners to 17 unforced errors, converted six of 13 break points, and outpointed Eikeri and Neel 67-56.

After reaching the quarterfinals earlier this month at Charleston, Chan and Kudermetova strung together four straight wins — three of them in straight sets — all against unseeded opponents.

Around the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

By the numbers

By winning the Porsche Tennis Grand in Stuttgart, Elena Rybakina has now won eighth career singles titles – including three on clay – following wins in Rome last year at Bucharest in 2019.

“Quotable …”

“I think just the consistency, of course, and how I’m managing to play all these tournaments until the end, because it’s really tough with the schedule which we have, with all the jet lags and changes of the surface.

“Just overall it’s been a lot of matches, and I’m happy that for now I’m managing to fight through all these tough matches and be able to be in the finals.”

— World No. 4 Elena Rybakina, from her champion’s news conference, on what’s she’s been most proud of during the first four months of the season after winning three titles and appearing in five finals.