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Elena Rybakina is making it impossible to ignore her

Matt Zemek



Aaron Doster - USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, a story has to begin not with an elegant line, but with an editor’s explanation for a flaw or imperfection. This is one of those stories.

We don’t have a photo of Elena Rybakina — the subject of this story — to present to you. Our photo library at USA TODAY Sports doesn’t have an available picture of her. We weren’t trying to erase or minimize Rybakina, or what she is doing. No, we simply didn’t have a photo in our archives.

That bit of background creates a rich background, however, for this piece: Very simply, Elena Rybakina is making it impossible for the tennis world to ignore her. Her face — her presence — is becoming a consistent one on the WTA Tour. This week’s Dubai event is increasing that presence.

Rybakina dismissed second-seeded Karolina Pliskova on Thursday, punching a ticket to the semifinals and continuing her rapid rise as one of the breakout players of the early portion of the 2020 season.

Rybakina made the final in Shenzhen, Hobart and St. Petersburg, winning the title in Hobart. She posted a solid round-of-32 result at the Australian Open. Now she is one win away from yet another final. If she makes the Dubai championship match, it will be her fourth final of the year before March.

Last year, Bianca Andreescu burst onto the scene in January and February, providing the “on-ramp” for a quick and soaring ascent in the tennis world. If any WTA player is authoring a comparable story through two months of competition in 2020, it’s Rybakina.

(Sofia Kenin established herself on tour in 2019, so she isn’t coming out of nowhere. Rybakina can much more safely be placed in that category.)

Rybakina, 20, is outflanking and outmaneuvering the rest of the tour. The odds tell us that the tour will begin to adjust, but the odds told us in 2019 that the tour would adjust to Andreescu. On hardcourts, at least, that never truly happened.

Stay tuned for the next development in the story of Elena Rybakina. This one is shaping up to be a real page-turner in 2020 and beyond.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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