Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan won the Italian Open title on Saturday when her Ukrainian opponent Anhelina Kalinina was forced to retire through injury.
Anhelina Kalinina (2ndL) and Elena Rybakina (R) pose with their trophies during the final match of the Women's WTA Rome Open tournament in Rome on Saturday night. AFP
World number six Rybakina, the reigning Wimbledon champion, was leading 6-4, 1-0 when Kalinina called it quits with a left thigh injury shortly after midnight in a final long-delayed by rain.
Rybakina, 23, is the first player to capture two WTA 1000 titles this season having already won the prestigious Indian Wells hard court tournament. She was also runner-up at the Australian Open and in Miami.
Elena Rybakina poses with her trophy. AFP
Rybakina, who will rise to four in the world ahead of the French Open, is only the third woman to have reached the finals at the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami and Rome in the same season. The others were Monica Seles in 1991 and Maria Sharapova in 2012.
The Russian-born Rybakina has now won 28 matches this season — only world number two and Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka has won more, with 29.
Elena Rybakina plays a backhand return to Anhelina Kalinina during their final match. Reuters / AFP
"I can play good on all the surfaces," Rybakina said. "It’s just maybe for clay I need to be ready more physically and maybe have a lot of preparation.” It’s been quite a year for Rybakina, who reached the final of the Australian Open, also won an elite title in Indian Wells and was the runner-up in Miami.
"I’m proud that I can maintain this level,” she said. "I can see improvements on the court, physically also. ... I think there is still a lot of room to improve."
On Monday, Rybakina will move up to a career-high No. 4 in the rankings and will be a contender at the French Open, which starts next weekend.
"She’s serving 200 kph (125 mph). She’s also making winners like no one on tour,” Kalinina said. "Anyone can win in Paris, but she has good chances. "I am sure if she’s going to do like this, maybe new world No. 1 for sure."
Rybakina was leading 6-4, 1-0, 15-0 when Kalinina called for a trainer and grasped her left leg as she teared up. She then decided she couldn't continue.
The final began at almost 11pm on Saturday and Rybakina lifted the trophy after midnight on Sunday.
"I’m really sorry that I couldn’t play," Kalinina said during the awards ceremony as the crowd - which had waited under the rain for hours before the night session started - whistled.
Kalinina spent more than four hours longer on court than Rybakina entering the final, having won the longest match on the women’s circuit this season - 3 hours, 41 minutes against Beatriz Haddad Maia in the quarterfinals. She also required three sets to beat Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova in an emotionally charged semifinal.
"I feel like I am at my physical limit today,” Kalinina said.
Top-ranked Iga Swiatek also retired in the third set against Rybakina in the quarterfinals due to a right thigh injury.
Rune, who eliminated six-time Rome champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals, improved to 7-1 in his career against players ranked in the top five. "I play some of my best tennis when I play the top guys of the world,” Rune said. "You need it against those players.”