Elena Rybakina wins Rome title when Anhelina Kalinina (leg) retires

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Seventh-seeded Elena Rybakina prevailed in the championship match at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome on Saturday when Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina retired in the second set with a left thigh injury.

Rybakina led 6-4, 1-0 when No. 30 seed Kalinina said she couldn’t continue. That gave Rybakina her second 1000-level title of the season.

Kalinina’s last serve was below average speed and Rybakina easily slammed it home for a winner. Kalinina immediately walked over toward the chair umpire and told her that she couldn’t stand on her left leg.

A medical trainer worked on Kalinina for a few minutes. A sobbing Kalinina, playing the biggest match of her career, repeatedly said she couldn’t continue.

“I feel like I am at my physical limit today especially,” Kalinina said after the match. “Today, yeah, I started, but after, I don’t know, two, three games, I couldn’t (move). I was trying, but it was absolutely impossible.

“I’m most proud of my fighting spirit these two weeks. I was fighting despite the score, any situation, any weather conditions, opponents. Everyone was very tough. A serious draw.”

The 26-year-old Kalinina was the talk of the clay-court tournament by reaching the final at a time in which the Russian invasion of her homeland continues.

Her hometown of Nova Kakhovka is under the occupation of Russian troops and her family relocated to Kyiv. Her parents serve as tennis coaches at an academy and just days ago, according to Kalinina, there was a “huge, huge bomb near them, near their academy.”

Rybakina won 20 of 22 first-serve points (90.9 percent) while winning her second title of the season. The Kazahk also won at Indian Wells in March.

Rybakina was on her game despite the match being delayed for hours due to rain and finally starting at 11:30 p.m. in Rome. She hit 21 winners — including three aces — while committing 17 unforced errors.

The victory was her 28th of the season, tying for second on the tour with World No. 1 Iga Swiatek. The only player with more victories is World No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka with 29.

“I’m proud that I can maintain this level,” Rybakina said. “It’s not easy, with all the scheduling, traveling. 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.”

The sudden end of the match after 65 minutes wasn’t something Rybakina wanted to see. She has developed a close friendship with Kalinina, who was playing in her second career final and looking for her first career title.

“Of course, happy with the title,” Rybakina said. “Not the way I want to finish this match.

“It’s been great results for Anhelina. She played some tough battles. Really happy for her improvement. Hopefully she can continue like this. Pity she couldn’t finish the match. I hope that it’s nothing serious, so hopefully she can recover quick and she can continue like this.”

Kalinina endured some long matches during her fabulous surprise run to the final.

On Tuesday, she played for three hours and 41 minutes, the longest WTA match of the year, while outlasting No. 12 seed Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil to advance to the semifinals. Then she defeated No. 11 seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia in two hours, 53 minutes to reach the final.

“I’m really sorry that I couldn’t play,” Kalinina told the crowd during the awards ceremony. “I was trying to do my best.”

–Field Level Media

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