Thanasi Kokkinakis has been forced to clarify a social media comment he made about Elena Rybakina in the wake of her triumph at Indian Wells. Rybakina beat Aryna Sabalenka in Sunday's final in the Californian desert, prevailing 7-6 (11-9) 6-4 to avenge her loss in the Australian Open decider.
Kokkinakis took to Twitter moments after the final point, commenting: "Rybakina looks like the nicest girl ever." The Aussie inadvertently sparked a fan frenzy with the tweet, with many tennis fans wondering what he had in mind.
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Kokkinakis was forced to send a follow-up tweet after being flooded with replies, writing: Not having a crack, relaaaax," with a laughing emoji. The Aussie was seemingly commenting on Rybakina's post-match comments in which she heaped praise on Sabalenka.
Not having a crack😂 relaaaax
— Thanasi Kokkinakis (@TKokkinakis) March 19, 2023
"It's actually the first time it goes my way," Rybakina said as she accepted the trophy. A smiling Sabalenka then interjected: "I will make sure it was the last one." Rybakina laughed and said: "We'll see next time."
NAH CAUSE THE WAY PEOPLE ARE REACTING TO THIS IS CRAZYYYYYYY
— shreya | kokkinakis fans fiji (@cokeinakis) March 19, 2023
She's way out of your league
— jimmy soixante-dix (@hotdog6969) March 19, 2023
You had no chance anyway but good for you 😌
— 🏽✨ (@MonteSpice) March 19, 2023
Elena Rybakina makes history with Indian Wells triumph
Playing in her first final at a WTA 1000 event, Rybakina came back from a break down to grab a tightly-contested first set. Second seed Sabalenka committed 10 double faults and the Kazakh 10th seed never trailed for the remainder of the contest.
Rybakina had earlier beaten defending champion and World No.1 Iga Swiatek to reach the final. She dropped serve when Sabalenka landed a forehand lob just inside the baseline for a 3-2 lead, followed by a routine hold that gave the Belarusian control.
But Rybakina refused to give in and immediately held to love, steadying the ship before Sabalenka handed back the break with an untimely double fault that levelled the match at 4-4. The pair remained on serve to force a tie-breaker, and Sabalenka had a number of chances despite her struggles on serve.
The Belarusian, who isn't allowed to play under her national flag, squandered three set points while also saving five set points on Rybakina's racquet before finally sending a forehand long to give her opponent control. Rybakina opened the second set with a break, before Sabalenka finally settled into her game. However Rybakina took her chances and quickly closed out the contest on her first championship point when her opponent sent a service return into the net.
The win marked Rybakina's first in five career meetings with Sabalenka, who prevailed in the Australian Open final in January. Rybakina is projected to rise to seventh in the world rankings after handing Sabalenka just her second defeat of the year.
The Kazakh player has now won her past four matches against top-two opponents. She beat then-No.2 Ons Jabeur at Wimbledon last year and has beaten Swiatek twice in 2023 - including a fourth-round upset at the Australian Open. She's the first Indian Wells champion in WTA history to beat both the No.1 and No.2 players on the way to the title.
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