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Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina is finally set to earn top billing again after setting up a fourth-round clash with world number one Iga Swiatek at the Australian Open.
The Russian-turned-Kazakh was a surprise winner of the Venus Rosewater Dish when she beat Ons Jabeur on Centre Court last summer.
But the leap up the rankings that would normally follow such an achievement was missing because of the WTA and ATP’s decision to remove ranking points in retaliation for the banning of Russian and Belarusian players.
Rybakina stayed down in the 20s – she is currently 25 – and voiced her frustration at the US Open after her first-round match was scheduled on an outside court.
She was assigned Court 13 here for her opening match but has been working her way up the schedule and is likely to make it to Rod Laver Arena after defeating last year’s runner-up, Danielle Collins, 6-2 5-7 6-2.
“I guess it’s a motivation to win even more,” said Rybakina. “Maybe next time they’re going to put me first match somewhere else, not the Court 13.
“I honestly don’t care because it wasn’t easy after Wimbledon with the scheduling, of course, and everything. But in the end I’m here to play tennis. I’m feeling good. So I’m super happy to get through to another match. Doesn’t matter which court I’m going to play.”
Her next contest should be a fascinating one between the only two active reigning grand slam champions on the women’s side.
They were also junior rivals, with Swiatek, who is two years younger, recalling their meeting in the final of a big tournament in Italy.
“The final of Trofeo Bonfiglio on clay,” she said. “I lost. I remember, I was so stressed that there was a live streaming on Internet, and I just couldn’t focus because of that. It seems surreal right now. I don’t know who is watching me.
“She really is a solid player. Since we played juniors, I knew that she’s kind of going the right direction. With her serve, she can do a lot.”
Swiatek began the tournament a little shakily but has improved through the rounds and handed poor Cristina Bucsa a pasting on Friday, losing just six points in the first set of a 6-0 6-1 victory and winning the first 11 games before the Spanish qualifier finally got on the board.
“For sure my main goal was to keep my focus until the end because sometimes it’s hard when you feel like you control everything, your mind can wander off,” said Swiatek.
“I feel I’m more and more confident since day one here. I’m not even talking about matches, but also practices. I think that’s the thing that I am most pleased with.”
Third seed Jessica Pegula continued her march through the draw, defeating talented young Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk 6-0 6-2 and next meets former French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova.
Coco Gauff followed up her victory over Emma Raducanu with a 6-3 6-2 win against Bernarda Pera. She will also take on a former French Open champion in Jelena Ostapenko while two-time Melbourne winner Victoria Azarenka saw off last year’s semi-finalist Madison Keys 1-6 6-2 6-1.
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