INDIAN WELLS: Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina out-lasted 76th-ranked Karolina Muchova 7-6 (7/4), 2-6, 6-4 on Thursday to reach the semi-finals of the WTA and ATP Masters 1000 at Indian Wells.
Rybakina, runner-up to Aryna Sabalenka at the Australian Open in January, had all she could handle from the oft-injured Muchova, who had also reached the quarter-finals at Dubai last month but had to withdraw with an abdominal injury.
She took advantage as Muchova’s serve speed dropped in the final set but needed three match points to close it out, wasting two with a pair of backhand errors as Muchova held serve in the penultimate game.
Rybakina then fell behind 0-30 on her serve, but polished it off after two hours and 45 minutes with her sixth ace of the day.
“It was a really tough match today,” said Rybakina. “I served much better in the third. I didn’t start that well, I was a bit slower than usual.
“In the important moments I played well,” added Rybakina who next faces either world number one and defending champion Iga Swiatek or 83rd-ranked Romanian Sorana Cirstea.
Swiatek, winner of the French and US Opens last year, is vying to become just the second woman, after Martina Navratilova in 1990 and ‘91, to win back-to-back Indian Wells titles.
Rybakina is one of three players to beat Swiatek this year, having shocked the Polish star in the round of 16 at the Australian Open.
Muchova took advantage early as Rybakina struggled to get her big serve going, breaking the Moscow-born Kazakh for a 3-2 lead in the opening set.
Rybakina had her chances, but was unable to convert her first five break points against the Czech.
But a bad mistake by Muchova, who botched an easy overhead on a set point in the 10th game, gave Rybakina an opening. She went on to break and held at love to take a 6-5 lead, but she, too, was unable to convert a set point.
Muchova held to force the tiebreaker, but finally surrendered the set with a whimper as she double-faulted on Rybakina’s second set point.
Unfazed, the Czech stormed through the second set without facing a break point. She broke Rybakina on the way to a quick 3-0 lead and broke her again in the final game to force the third.