Rybakina the woman for all surfaces after clay triumph

·3-min read

A sizzling start to the season and a first big claycourt triumph at the Italian Open last week has many convinced that Elena Rybakina could be poised to shed the "one-slam wonder" tag at the French Open.

The 23-year-old may have enjoyed an element of good fortune in Rome with Anhelina Kalinina's retirement from the final following the injury withdrawals of Iga Swiatek and Anna Kalinskaya in earlier rounds.

She was, perhaps, due a bit of luck after the COVID pandemic halted her first charge towards the top 10 in 2020 and her Wimbledon title last year earned her zero rankings points because of the ban on Russian and Belarusian players.

The Moscow-born Kazakh has certainly earned her place among the Roland Garros favourites this season, finishing runner-up at the Australian Open, winning the title at Indian Wells and reaching the final at the Miami Open.

"I'm proud that I can maintain this level," the world No.4 said after adding the Rome title to her haul.

"It's not easy with all the scheduling, travelling. I think we're doing a good job with the team. I can see improvements on the court, physically also. I think we're on the right path."

Rybakina certainly has the tools to be a multiple grand slam champion, with a rocket of a serve, heavy groundstrokes and a calmness under pressure that sets her apart from many of her rivals.

Quiet and unassuming on and off court, Rybakina clearly puts a lot of thought into her game and how to improve it.

Her success in Italy, she said, was the result of finally getting enough time on clay to adapt her aggressive game to the slower surface.

"I always felt that I could play good on clay but it was either not enough time to prepare and when I was a kid I wasn't spending that much time on clay," she told the WTA website.

"So it was a bit strange because I feel like I can play good, but it wasn't the results that I wanted, or still I wasn't that confident.

"Now, I think it's just experience and better preparation that I have. I can have good results."

Already a proven performer on grass and hard courts, Rybakina's Italian Open triumph marked her out as a threat on any surface the tour throws at her, even if she has never been past the quarter-finals at Roland Garros.

She rarely gets through an interview without mentioning the importance of maintaining her health and it was the grind of the grand slam fortnight that was her first thought when asked about her French Open chances.

"The tournament is pretty long," she added in Rome.

"I mean, hopefully I can go far at French Open. I have good memories playing there. Now I have had more matches on clay, so it's a bit easier and a bit more confidence definitely."

For Rybakina to break through on the red dirt, though, someone must stop two-time champion Iga Swiatek.

The Pole dispensed any notion that she is primarily a claycourt specialist when she claimed her third gland slam title at last year's US Open.

But there is no disputing the red dirt is the perfect companion to her multi-faceted game and even less debate that Roland Garros remains her favourite playground.

Swiatek, who turns 22 during the first week of the French Open, is the raging favourite for a third title in four years in Paris after dropping only one set in 2022.