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Elena Rybakina: Wimbledon champion wins Italian Open after Anhelina Kalininia retires

Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina becomes the sixth woman since the introduction of the WTA 1000 format in 2009 to win a Grand Slam or Masters title on every surface after Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova, Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza and Ashleigh Barty

Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan poses with the champions trophy after defeating Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine in the womens singles final on Day Thirteen of the Internazionali BNL D'Italia at Foro Italico on May 20, 2023 in Rome, Italy (Photo by Robert Prange/Getty Images)
Image: Elena Rybakina was crowned WTA Italian Open champion on Saturday

Elena Rybakina was crowned WTA Italian Open champion after Anhelina Kalininia retired in the second set of a rain-delayed final through injury in Rome.

The final began at almost 11pm as spectators waited under their umbrellas for hours before the night session started.

When it did, Kalininia opened in tremendous fashion as she broke Rybakina following several deuce rallies.

But the Kazakh started to show her quality and hit back with a break of her own in the sixth game before breaking again in the 10th game to claim the opening set.

Rybakina started the second set with a convincing hold as Kalininia took a seat to speak to her doctor and after a very swift consultation, the players shook hands to give the 2022 Wimbledon champion her biggest title on clay, which will also see her climb to fourth in the WTA rankings on Monday.

It was the second time in the tournament that Rybakina had won after her opponent retired after Iga Swiatek was forced to retire in the quarter-finals.

After victory, Rybakina said courtside: "I want to wish Kalininia a speedy recovery because she is a really good friend of mine and I am really happy for all of her results. She did a good job and hopefully can recover for the French Open.

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"A big thanks to the crowd and everyone who stayed and watched till the end. It was not easy for us but not easy for you with all the rain today so thank you so much for the support."

Kalininia said: "I'm really sorry I couldn't play. I was trying to do my best but of course this is sport and I want to congratulate Elena for not only this title but everything you have done this year starting from Wimbledon, it's really inspiring and hopefully I can get to your level one day.

"Best of luck for the season, stay healthy and reach your goals."

Rybakina will now head to the French Open with the confidence that she can be as effective on clay as she is on the other two surfaces with her booming serve and groundstrokes.

"I think with my game, I can play good on all the surfaces," said Rybakina, who also reached the Australian Open and Miami finals this season.

"It's just maybe for clay I need to be ready more physically and have a lot of preparation which I don't always have the time for after the hardcourt season."

Rybakina reached the third round at Roland Garros last year and hoped playing in Paris would be easier this time.

"The tournament is pretty long. Hopefully I can go far. I have good memories playing there," Rybakina said.

"Now I've got more matches on clay, so it's a bit easier and there's a bit more confidence, definitely."

Kalinina, whose hopes of a first title were dashed due to a leg injury, said Rybakina had the qualities to succeed on clay.

"She's serving at 200kph. She's making winners like no one on tour... anyone can win in Paris, but she has good chances," Kalinina said.

"She's an amazing player, a top player. I'm sure if she's going to (play) like this, maybe new world number one for sure."

The French Open begins on Sunday May 28.

WTA: Delay to final was the right decision

The WTA defended the Italian Open's decision to reschedule the women's final to 11pm on a rain-affected Saturday, after former player Rennae Stubbs called the move an "abomination."

On a frustrating day for organisers of the Masters event, players and fans, the men's singles semi-final featuring Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas was interrupted multiple times because of rain with nearly five hours of play lost.

That meant Rybakina and Kalinina took to the court later in the evening with fewer supporters in the stands after organisers opted not to move the final to Sunday. An anti-climactic finish followed as Ukraine's Kalinina retired injured trailing 6-4 1-0.

Rome organisers did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment but women's tennis governing body the WTA said the driving issue with respect to the scheduling decision was the weather.

It added that it was important to ensure that more than 8,000 paying fans for the final and others who stayed through significant delays saw the contest.

"It's not the desire of the event nor the WTA to see a match go on as late as it did, but it was the right thing to do," a WTA spokesperson told Reuters via email on Sunday.

"We congratulate both players on a great effort in Rome and wish Anhelina a quick recovery for the upcoming fortnight at Roland Garros and Elena continued success."

The decision to proceed with the match was met with criticism online and there was awkwardness at the presentation when Moscow-born Kazakh Rybakina was asked to speak before the runner-up and had to prompt organisers to hand her the trophy.

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