Tennis-Rybakina’s clay performances boost French Open hopes, health permitting

By Thomson Reuters May 22, 2024 | 10:09 AM

By Trevor Stynes

(Reuters) – Elena Rybakina has had her French Open preparations hampered by illness but her performances on clay this year should give her confidence if the world number four can stay healthy.

In March, unwell Rybakina pulled out of Indian Wells and was then unable to defend her Italian Open title in Rome so, after her Roland Garros withdrawal last year before her third round tie, the Kazakh will be eager to make amends.

Rybakina, despite her health problems, has managed to win three titles in 2024, including Brisbane and Abu Dhabi, but it is her most recent victory, at Stuttgart, which will give her the biggest boost going to Paris.

On clay, she beat world number one and three-times French Open winner Iga Swiatek in the Stuttgart semi-finals and then reached the last four in Madrid, losing to Aryna Sabalenka.

“I always believe that I can play good on clay. My first win on the WTA was actually on clay,” Rybakina said in Stuttgart.

“It’s just the season is quite short and of course me, for example, I need a bit more time to get used, to adapt, to play some matches. But overall I think that I can play well on all the surfaces.”

Unfortunately for Rybakina, her time on the clay has been curtailed, and it remains to be seen how the 24-year-old will recover from her latest illness.

Rybakina’s best performance at the French Open came in 2021 when she reached the quarter-finals but with five finals under her belt already this season her confidence will be high.

“There are a lot of great players, tough opponents. But I know if I feel fresh, if I’m physically ready, healthy, I’m playing my game, of course I have all the chances to win a Grand Slam on any surface,” Rybakina said.

Her one Grand Slam title to date came on the grass of Wimbledon, but perhaps the time has come for Rybakina to show she can also get the job done on clay.

Swiatek’s dominance of the French Open will prove hard to break, shown by her Italian Open final win over Sabalenka, a repeat of her triumph in Madrid, but the Pole had never been beaten in Stuttgart before Rybakina’s win.

That victory in April, ending Swiatek’s 10-match winning streak at the tournament, showed that Rybakina cannot be ruled out, no matter who she faces in Paris, provided, of course, health issues do not get in her way.

(Reporting by Trevor Stynes; Editing by Ken Ferris)