APRIL 21 - MAY 4, 2025

Rybakina back from the brink to reach semis

If you look up the word ‘clutch’ in the dictionary, you’ll probably find Elena Rybakina’s name right next to it.

Since losing to Anna Blinkova at the Australian Open in January, Rybakina has not lost a deciding set on tour, winning all 12 she has contested, including a wild one against Yulia Putintseva on Wednesday that earned her a place in the Mutua Madrid Open semi-finals.

In the first WTA 1000 quarter-final between two players representing Kazakhstan, the fourth-seeded Rybakina climbed back from 2-5 down in the third set, saving two match points along the way to a 4-6, 7-6(4), 7-5 result, her first win from three career meetings with Putintseva.

It was a two-hour 48-minute duel that saw both players struggle to capitalise on their break point opportunities, with Rybakina converting just 9/12 and Putintseva just 7/10.

But it was Rybakina who stepped up when it mattered the most, and she remained steady even when Putintseva saved three match points in the final game.

The 2022 Wimbledon champion now owns a tour-leading 30 victories this season, and has extended her winning streak on clay to 16 matches in a row. In the last 10 years, only Serena Williams (20) and Iga Swiatek (18) have won more consecutive matches on the surface.

Putintseva had the match in her hands for long stretches of time. The world No.50 maintained a high first-serve percentage throughout – she finished the quarter-final at 76% – and was torturing Rybakina with her inch-perfect drop shots.

But after squandering two match points on Rybakina’s serve at 5-2 in the decider, Putintseva got broken while serving for the victory at 5-3 and she never recovered.

The 29-year-old repeatedly smashed her racquet after losing the contest, and left it on the court in frustration, knowing all too well the opportunities she let slip away.

“It was a really tough match. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” said Rybakina, who awaits defending champion Aryna Sabalenka or 17-year-old Mirra Andreeva in the final four.

“I was hoping to start the match better but I had a lot of unforced errors. At 5-2, I felt like I already let all the emotions out and I just kept on playing.

“Yulia started to get a little more angry and made some mistakes that helped me.”

A champion in Stuttgart the week prior to Madrid, Rybakina enters the semis unbeaten in her last eight matches.