Rybakina beats Sabalenka to claim Indian Wells title
March 19 (Reuters) - Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina beat a misfiring Aryna Sabalenka 7-6(11) 6-4 on Sunday to claim the Indian Wells title and avenge her loss to the Belarusian in the Australian Open final.
Rybakina, playing in her first WTA 1000 final, saved three set points in the opening frame and was never really tested in the second where she cruised to a victory that will send her to a career-high seventh in the rankings.
The triumph in the California desert was the fourth career WTA singles title for the 23-year-old Rybakina and her first against second seed Sabalenka in five attempts.
"It's actually the first time it went my way (against her) so we'll see, hopefully we are going to play many more finals," Rybakina said during the trophy presentation before Sabalenka stepped in and joked: "I'll make sure it was the last one."
Rybakina, who beat defending champion and world number one Iga Swiatek to reach the final, dropped serve when Sabalenka landed a forehand lob just inside the baseline for a 3-2 lead followed by a routine hold that gave the Belarusian control.
But the Kazakh 10th seed did not back down and immediately held at love to steady the ship before Sabalenka handed back the break with an untimely double fault that leveled the match at 4-4 from where the duo remained on serve to force a tiebreaker.
Despite her struggles, Sabalenka had her chances during the opening frame where she squandered three set point chances but also turned aside five set points.
Sabalenka's 10th double fault gave Rybakina her sixth set point of the opening frame at 12-11 in the tiebreak from where she closed it out when the Belarusian sent a forehand long.
Rybakina used a pair of breaks to bulldoze her way to a 5-2 lead in the second set before Sabalenka produced a sizzling stretch to get within 5-4.
But Rybakina sensed her opportunity and closed the deal on her first championship point opportunity when Sabalenka sent a service return into the net.
"I didn't serve that well, and it started to get a little bit more windy and I didn't adjust my serve," said Sabalenka. "Of course I felt like she stepped in a little bit and started playing a little bit more aggressive."
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