Confident Rybakina, resurgent Dimitrov win in Brisbane

Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina in action at the Brisbane International tennis tournament in Brisbane on January 7, 2024. AFP

Elena Rybakina will head to the Australian Open full of confidence after demolishing Aryna Sabalenka in the Brisbane International final Sunday, while Grigor Dimitrov upset Holger Rune to win his first title since 2017.

Rybakina, who will now become world number three, won the first eight games in a row on her way to a 6-0, 6-3 win in just 73 minutes over the Australian Open champion in a repeat of the 2023 Melbourne Park final.

It was her sixth WTA title and comes a week before the first Grand Slam of the year.

“For sure it gives me confidence,” she said about her Australian Open prospects.

“But this week is just the beginning for all the players. I feel like maybe not everyone is in the best form yet.

“I’m playing well now, so hopefully, as I said, I continue.”

The 2022 Wimbledon winner was in irresistible form all week, spending only three hours and 40 minutes on court in her four matches.

The final was expected to be a different challenge — the two players had met seven times previously with all but two of those matches going to three tough sets, including last year’s Australian Open final.

But Rybakina soon put those expectations to bed with a blistering start, racing through the first set in 24 minutes, only dropping three points on serve.

She outshone the Belarusian in all aspects, serving beautifully and hitting her groundstrokes with power and depth.

Rybakina admitted she was surprised at her form after being sick in the lead-up and unable to practise before the tournament because of rain.

“Also the first few days here it was really tough with the jet lag and everything,” she said.

“I’m just pleased with the way I started the tournament because I was not feeling the greatest physically after the illness and everything.”

World number two Sabalenka also had an impressive run to the final, but she appeared out of sorts and made a host of unforced errors.

She finally got on the board when she surprisingly broke Rybakina’s serve at 0-2 in the second set, but dropped her next serve and there was no way back.

‘Great tennis’

Sabalenka saw the humorous side during the presentations, laughingly blaming her own team for the loss.

“Congratulations to my team,” she said. “6-0, 6-3. That’s all your fault guys.

“Of course we should have finished this week differently but I think we showed some great tennis,” she added.

“Hopefully we’ll do better at the Australian Open.”

Bulgaria’s Dimitrov claimed his first title since 2017 with a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 win over Rune, the world number eight from Denmark.

Dimitrov was once touted as the player most likely to break the stranglehold Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray had at the top of the men’s game.

But after winning four titles in 2017, including Brisbane, he never reached the heights expected of him and Sunday was a welcome return to the winner’s circle.

In a tight contest between two evenly matched players, Dimitrov took the few chances he had to win a tight tiebreak then break Rune at 3-3 in the second set.

He held on to clinch a high quality final, winning the match with a backhand volley.

Dimitrov said he had been forced to change his game over the past year to match the younger players such as Rune.

“I’ve had to find a way to get to those powerful guys differently,” he said.

“I’m playing a little bit differently to how I used to play before so basically I’m trying to find my way around the court against a different generation.”

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