April 22, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

Rybakina takes on Collins in Miami Open final

MIAMI – With the top three seeds in the Miami Open women’s draw dispatched gone far too soon, No. 4 Elena Rybakina became the instant favorite to win the back end of the American “Sunshine Double”.

Not that she wasn’t among the favorites already. But a bout with gastrointestinal illness that forced Rybakina to miss Indian Wells put a crimp in those plans.

She became even more of a favorite when her finals opponent emerged: unseeded American Danielle Collins.

Collins is a former Grand Slam finalist and has been ranked as high as No. 7 in the world. But in large part because of various health issues – including an ongoing battle with rheumatoid arthritis – she hasn’t been at her best week-to-week for a few years. And as a consequence, her results have been up and down.

But not this week. Collins has blown through the event. She lost the first set she played, to lucky loser Bernarda Pera. But none since. Twelve straight.

Collins dispatches Alexandrova

You can only play who’s ahead of you in a draw. And sometimes an opponent – or opponents – helps clear a path

The American met No. 30 seed Anastasia Potapova, who had a good week at Indian Wells, but whose results have been up and down in 2024. And the American lost just four games.

Then, instead of No. 6 seed Ons Jabeur, she got Alina Avanesyan (who upset a hobbled Jabeur in her opening match). Just three games lost.

After that, No. 19 seed Sorana Cirstea, who had pushed both Sloane Stephens and No. 10 seed Daria Kasatkina out of the way. She lost five games.

Then? No. 23 seed Caroline Garcia, who was vintage in dispatching Naomi Osaka and then No. 3 seed Coco Gauff back to back. That was already a lot; add to that Garcia’s dragging a shoulder issue along for the ride. Still, far too much Collins. She lost five games.

In the semifinals, Collins met No. 14 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova, who had a career week of her own. She upset world No. 1 Iga Swiatek. And then, in arguably just as tough a feat, was able to turn the page on that, look ahead and defeat No. 5 Jessica Pegula in a gruelling comeback win.

That was about all she had in her. Collins was all over the Russian. She dropped just five games. Again.

Draws are an ever-evolving drama that begin, in this case, with 96 players and over the course of 12 days go through upsets, injury retirements (there were six during the tournament), late withdrawals (there were five of those, including Krejcikova, Raducanu and Kostyuk) and other twists and turns.

Collins absolutely maximized her opportunity.

Rybakina edges Azarenka in a thriller

Rybakina, despite being the No. 4 seed, had the completely opposite experience in Miami.

And she came in weakened – the thing about a gastrointestinal issue is that it … drains you. If you know what we mean. She only had a few days’ practice before taking on Miami, and not a lot of tennis in the last month.

Rybakina also withdrew from her last tournament, in Dubai in February, with gastrointestinal illness.

So she didn’t come in with much in the bank. But she also watched the three players seeded and ranked ahead of her go down.

It remained a slog. Rybakina needed three sets to beat qualifier Clara Tauson in her opener, and she had to come back from a set down to do it. She needed three more sets against an impressive Taylor Townsend to make it through the third round.

Against Madison Keys in the round of 16, she faced a player who was playing just her second event of the season, after a shoulder injury scuttled the Australian and Middle. East swings. That had to have helped. Still, Keys was very competitive at times as Rybakina won it, 6-3, 7-5.

It was her easiest match of the tournament. That’s saying something.

In the quarterfinals, Rybakina once again had a marathon. Maria Sakkari fought back to take the second set, and it ended 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-4. It was as tough as that score makes it sound.

In the semifinals, Rybakina faced an energized Victoria Azarenka who was running on so much adrenaline, it was surprising it didn’t spray off and hit the fans courtside.

Urging herself on, giving her team looks as if to say, “I’m going after this. HARD”, Azarenka dropped a bagel on a visibly fatigued Rybakina in the second set.

The Kazakh rallied in the third, building up a nice lead and serving for the match. But Azarenka battled back again, to take it to the deciding tiebreak.

There, Rybakina closed it out. But the match against Keys was her only straight-setter of the tournament. And in four of the others, she won the first set and it still went the distance.

Time on Court – Advantage Collins

In all, Rybakina has spent 11 hours and 34 minutes on court – through five matches after a first-round bye

Collins has spent nearly 3 1/2 hours less time on court, with an extra first-round match included.

Rybakina marathon

Collins roll

Total number of games? 148 to 105 for Rybakina.

Total number of points? 944 to 698, Rybakina, in one fewer match.

That’s a ton of tennis, for a player who already looked fatigued from the start. And who looked, at least against Sakkari, to be nursing an ankle issue although she didn’t have the ankle taped against Azarenka in the semifinal.

But Rybakina managing to get through all that, with a day to rest on Friday. That tells you she’s got it in her to go one further.

For Collins, who ludicrously had to fend off questions about postponing her announced 2024 retirement because of her run this week, it’s a huge moment in the sun (literally), in her home state, with the biggest title of her career there for the taking.

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