Of all the days for the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open to experience adverse weather conditions, Sunday was not it.
A tightly packed schedule for the WTA Tour’s Middle East swing – the Qatar Open in Doha starts on Monday – meant there was no margin for error. Either the final was played on Sunday or not at all.
The players, fans, and organisers might have feared the worst after waking up on Sunday morning to persistent grey and gloomy skies and the evidence of overnight storms.
Thankfully, although the rain threatened, it never arrived, at least not in time to stop Elena Rybakina from marching to the title, the top seed living up to her billing with a largely comfortable 6-1, 6-4 victory over Daria Kasatkina.
“It was a tough match and I’m really happy with how I managed the second set,” Rybakina, 24, said. “I’m happy with the whole week here in Abu Dhabi and I’m looking forward already for my match in Doha.”
Perhaps aware of a potentially imminent storm and her quick turnaround time before going to Qatar, Rybakina looked in no mood to leave it in the hands of Mother Nature; the Kazakh took full advantage of Kasatkina’s struggles on serve to race into a one-set lead in just 25 minutes.
The clouds that hovered menacingly above Zayed Sports City’s Stadium Court gathered metaphorically over Kasatkina when she was broken early in the second set to trail 2-1. Yet, just as the final was in danger of becoming a blowout, the Russian dug in to make it competitive.
An immediate break back for 2-2 was followed by two more break exchanges, before Kasatkina got herself in front for the first time with a service hold for 4-3. Unfortunately for the Russian, that’s as good as it got as Rybakina resumed control to win the next two games and give herself the chance to serve out the victory.
With the 10th, and ultimately final, game of the set poised at 30-30, there was a brief pause as a few specks of rain arrived to disrupt proceedings. After a quick sit down under the umbrellas, the players returned to the court, and a couple of big Rybakina serves closed out the match in 71 minutes.
When asked if she would have time to celebrate, given that the Qatar Open starts on Monday, Rybakina said: “I’m travelling tomorrow so we’re going for a nice dinner.
“I still have treatment and I can’t really have a late night as I have a match on Tuesday, so not too much time for celebration but better than travelling tonight. I feel sorry for Dasha [Kasatkina] but the schedule is very tough for us.”
Rybakina, who will move up to world No 4 on Monday after her second title of the season, has received a bye into the second round in Doha, so has the luxury of an extra day to travel, rest and recuperate.
However, that is not the case for beaten finalist Kasatkina. The 26-year-old Russian, who climbs one place to No 13 in the WTA rankings, was on a 10.30pm flight on Sunday and will play her first-round match against compatriot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Monday.
As Kasatkina raced to the airport, she did so with mixed emotions. On one hand, there is the disappointment of another final defeat – her second this season and fourth in a row, all in straight sets. On the other, her best start to the season in terms of matches won.
"Right now I’m a bit disappointed after leaving the court, but sometimes being upset can help you more than being super happy," she said. "I think that these losses in finals will make me better and will push me to grow.
"It's my second final of the year, I’m playing a lot of matches and winning most of them, which is very important. It’s the best start of the year for me ever, so I can be happy with that."