Medvedev, Rybakina rule in Rome

Slam champs thrive at Foro Italico to rubber stamp names onto RG contenders list

Daniil Medvedev, Rome 2023, trophy, final©Ray Giubilo/FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Two major players who know what it takes to lift the most prestigious prizes.

It was a week to remember for Daniil Medvedev and Elena Rybakina in Rome, who continued their stellar seasons to send out a signal of intent to their Roland-Garros rivals.

'Clayvedev' unleashed

For a number of years a mischievous Medvedev has compiled a standout career on hard courts, whilst openly disliking any duels on the terre battue.

Not anymore. The 27-year-old has learned to embrace the challenges of playing on clay, claiming his first title on the surface with an enthralling 7-5, 7-5 result against 20-year-old Dane Holger Rune on Sunday evening.

An ATP leading 39th win of 2023, his fifth trophy of the season, a maiden career title on clay – it's fair to say Medvedev is in the middle of a purple patch of form.

Daniil Medvedev, Rome 2023, final©Ray Giubilo/FFT

"This one is special because I didn't think it was going to be able to happen," admitted Medvedev, who was a quarter-finalist at Roland-Garros in 2021. "I still kind of don't believe - not that I won it, but I played so well this week."

In three previous visits to the Italian capital, a frustrated Medvedev departed the Foro Italico without a single victory. The 2023 edition witnessed his transformation on the surface though as he toppled the likes of Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to lifting the champion's trophy.

Moving more comfortably on the red dirt and gaining greater depth on his strikes, the 20-time titlist was at his mercurial best in Rome as he improved his record to 10-2 on the surface this campaign.

"I always want to believe in myself and I always want to win the biggest tournaments in the world," said the reinstated world No.2, clinching his sixth Masters title at a sixth different event.

"But at the same time, I didn't think I could win a Masters 1000 on clay in my career because usually I hated it, I hated playing on it. I didn't feel good on it and nothing was working.

"Before this tournament already in Madrid and Monte-Carlo I wasn't feeling too bad. I thought, 'OK, let's continue'. Then when I came here I felt so good in practice and I told my coach, 'I don't know what is happening but I am feeling amazing, so let's see how it goes'.

"I am really happy I managed to do it and to prove to myself and everyone else that I am capable of doing it."

Rybakina rolls on

Meanwhile, world No.4 Rybakina continues to enhance her title credentials in Paris, having all the answers during a storm-interrupted stint in Rome.

The 23-year-old dispatched an in-form Marketa Vondrousova 6-3, 6-3 and was embroiled in a three-set tussle with world No.1 Iga Swiatek, prior to the Pole's retirement through injury.

Rybakina also nullified the threat of 2017 Roland-Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-4, before landing a fifth career title when Anhelina Kalinina retired with a left thigh injury 6-4, 1-0 down.

Resilient and relentless, Rybakina managed to rise to the occasion on another prestigious platform last week. The Wimbledon champion and Australian Open finalist captured her second WTA 1000 silverware and is up to a career-high world No.4 as a result.

Against any opponent, on any court, Rybakina is a threat.

"It's just maybe for clay I need to be ready more physically and maybe have a lot of preparation also," said the Indian Wells winner. "Which I not always have time to do after the hard-court season. Overall, I think I can play well on all the surfaces."

The women's 'Big Three' of Aryna Sabalenka (29 match wins) , Swiatek (28) and Rybakina (28) continue to dominate the landscape in 2023.

"I'm proud that I can maintain this level," stated the Kazakh. "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 a right way. I think there is still a lot of room to improve."

Is a third major final within reach in Paris?

"The tournament is pretty long. Hopefully I can go far at Roland-Garros. I have good memories playing there," mused the 2021 quarter-finalist.

"Now I got more matches on clay, so it's a bit easier and a bit more confidence definitely. As I always say, important to be healthy, be ready physically, then hopefully I can go far there."

Elena Rybakina, Anhelina Kalinina, Rome 2023, final©Ray Giubilo/FFT