By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Tennis Writer
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina eliminated No. 1-ranked Iga Swiatek in straight sets Sunday to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals for the first time.
The 22nd-seeded Rybakina used her big serving to unsettle Swiatek and got the better of their baseline exchanges to win 6-4, 6-4 in about 1 1/2 hours.
“I played well in the important moments,” said Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan. “Of course I’m nervous every time I go on the court, I think like everybody. But I’m calm, always. At least I’m trying not to show too much emotions. My coach says I actually need to show sometimes, so I’m also learning.”
Swiatek is a three-time major champion, including titles at the French Open and U.S. Open last season.
Rybakina’s ranking of No. 25 does not properly reflect her ability or results because her championship at the All England Club last July did not come with any ranking points. The WTA and ATP tours withheld all points at Wimbledon in 2022 after the All England Club barred players from Russia and Belarus from participating because of the invasion of Ukraine.
Rybakina — who will face Coco Gauff or Jelena Ostapenko for a berth in the semifinals — was born in Moscow but has played for Kazakhstan since 2018, when that country offered her funding to support her tennis career.
Despite her status as a major champion, Rybakina has been out of the spotlight: Her first-round match at Melbourne Park was placed on tiny Court 13 last Monday; her match against two-time Slam champ Garbiñe Muguruza at least year’s U.S. Open was on Court 4.
But her game is worthy of much more attention, as she displayed in knocking out Swiatek at Rod Laver Arena.
Rybakina hit six aces and compiled a 24-15 edge in winners against the 21-year-old from Poland, who was a semifinalist a year ago in Australia. That followed Rybakina’s victory over 2022 runner-up Danielle Collins in the third round.
Until Sunday, Swiatek had looked fairly dominant, winning every set she contested and dropping a total of just 15 games through three matches.
She was not at her best this time, and Rybakina had a lot to do with that. In the opening game, Swiatek led 40-love but got broken. In the next, Swiatek held two break points at 15-40 but failed to convert either. So early on, while it ended up being 2-2, it very well could have been 4-0 in Swiatek’s favor.
Rybakina wound up serving out that set at love, capping it with a 113 mph (183 kph) ace, and her dangerous backhand was quite a help, too: She produced six winners off that wing in the first set, compared with zero for Swiatek.
In the second set, Swiatek appeared to have gotten herself back on track, looking very much like the player who put together a 37-match winning streak last year. But that surge didn’t last long, and Rybakina took six of the match’s last seven games.
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