Heather Watson and Elena Rybakina meet for the first time on Friday as they battle for a spot in the final of the Hobart International.
Watson vs Rybakina is live from Hobart on Friday from 6:00pm local time/ 7:00am GMT
British No. 2, Watson is bidding to reach the Hobart final for the second time, after winning the title back in 2015, when she defeated American, Madison Brengle. The 27-year-old is into the Hobart semi-finals for the third time in her career, having also made the last four in 2018.
It has been a long tournament for Watson, who had to pass through the qualifying rounds. The world No. 101 got past Hayley Carter and Nina Stojanovic in qualifying, before beating Jil Teichmann, Fiona Ferro and two-time champion, Elise Mertens to reach the semi-finals.
Twice she has had to come back from a set down, including her quarter final victory over Mertens, whom she defeated 6-7 6-4 7-5 in an epic three-and-a-half-hour battle. Watson had lost her three previous matches against Mertens, and a fourth straight defeat looked on the cards when she trailed by a set and a break, but the Brit fought back to level the match, before eking out the win in a seesaw final set. Defeat for Mertens’ ended the Belgian’s 14-match winning streak at the tournament.
Watson had opened her 2020 season in Brisbane, where she failed to cross the qualifying rounds, but she has been in fine form in Hobart, and will attempt to reach her fifth tour-level final on Friday. Her most recent final was in Tianjin last season, where she was beaten by Rebecca Peterson. (It was also the first time she had lost a WTA final). That Tianjin run rescued an otherwise forgettable WTA season, as she had won just one previous main draw match all year before Tianjin. She had a bit more joy at lower tier events, winning ITF titles in Fukuoka and Vancouver and reaching the semi-finals at the WTA 125K meet in New Haven. She ended the season outside the world’s top 100, but she will break back into that group next Monday following her efforts in Hobart.
Can the Brit go deeper by taking down Rybakina on Friday?
It’s been an excellent start to the year for Rybakina, who is looking to open 2020 with back-to-back finals.
The Kazakh was runner-up in Shenzhen last week, beating Saisai Zheng, Yafan Wang, Mertens and Kristyna Pliskova before falling to Ekaterina Alexandrova in the final, and she’s kept up that form in Hobart, taking down Tamara Zidansek, Alize Cornet and Lizette Cabrera to reach the last four.
Like Watson, Rybakina also had a lengthy quarter final, needing over two and a half hours to complete a 6-7 7-6 7-5 victory over Cabrera.
Now up to No. 30 in the world, Rybakina is looking to build on a fine 2019, when she claimed her maiden WTA title in Bucharest, finished second in Nanchang, reached semi-finals in s-Hertogenbosch and Luxembourg, and made quarter finals in Istanbul, Wuhan and Linz.
The 20-year-old began last season just inside the top-200, and started out in the ITF tour, winning titles in Launceston, Moscow and Kazan. It didn’t take her long to abandon the ITF, making a smooth transition into the main tour. She was up to 37th by the end of the year.
On the evidence of the opening weeks of 2020, that rise looks set to continue for the 20-year-old. Standing between Rybakina and consecutive WTA finals is Great Britain’s Watson, whom she faces for the first time on Friday.
Rybakina goes into this match with plenty of momentum- right from her strong finish to 2019 to a rapid start to the new campaign- and should be able to terminate Watson’s fine run on Friday.