Serena upset not enough for Rybakina

 - Dan Imhoff

Coach finds rest and reset spur on Rybakina's career-best Grand Slam run in Paris

Elena Rybakina - Roland-Garros 2021©Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

Elena Rybakina’s job is anything but accomplished in the aftermath of ending Serena Williams’ tilt at a 24th major.

Only a day since the 21-year-old showed the three-time Roland-Garros champion the exit, it has barely rated a mention in discussions with her coach, Stefano Vukov.

Focus immediately shifted to a showdown with her doubles partner, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, where a maiden Slam semi-final was on the line for both.

“We haven't talked about it so much, to be honest,” Vukov said of the Williams upset. “I think the job is not done yet generally, so we'll see later on, but we are trying to focus on the next match.

“[She’s] a good friend of ours, very good player, very nice girl, Nastia Pavlyuchenkova. I guess it's a bit tough for the girls because they are friends, but obviously once on the court they go to work, and then after that obviously can be friends again, definitely.”

After the pandemic derailed the Moscow-born Kazakhstani’s momentum last March, she had endured a torrid time of it on tour since.

Completely sapped of confidence, having failed to win back-to-back matches since January, Rybakina and Vukov decided to take three weeks to rest before a gradual return to practice.

It proved a masterstroke and the instant turnaround in Paris even caught her coach by surprise.

“Very crucial, I think mostly from the mental part,” Vukov said of the time off. “We've been on the road for so long since the beginning of the year and I remember after Miami and in Charleston she was not feeling the greatest so we had to pull out from there.

“We had a long trip in Argentina for the Fed Cup, she played Fed Cup for her country for the first time. Because of that, we weren't able to compete in Stuttgart. You know, seven flights to get back to Europe.

Elena Rybakina, Roland-Garros 2021 practice©Julien Crosnier / FFT

“Somehow made it to Madrid, but after Madrid I saw, you know, maybe it's best to take a week off and practise and reset and prepare for the clay, at least what was left of it.”

Rybakina’s ascent had been rapid since Vukov took the coaching reins three years ago, with a tour-leading five finals in 2020 – one of which she won in Hobart – and a top 20 debut.

For the Croatian, a former men’s professional player, it was only a matter of time before she carried her tour success to the second-week of a major.

“Mentally every match, you know, from day one she held it together, especially in the last match against Serena,” he said. “We had a set plan. She followed it nearly to 80 per cent, and so that was great.

“You still gotta wake up in the morning, get to Chatrier, play against one of the greatest players of the sport regardless of tennis or not. It's still mentally very tough, and I think she held it together really, really well.”