Serena Williams is playing in the fourth round at a Grand Slam tournament for the 64th time. Elena Rybakina is making her debut at that stage of a major. They’ll meet Sunday for a berth in the quarterfinals at the French Open. The 21-year-old Rybakina has scored back-to-back wins for the first time since January. It will be her first time facing Williams, who hopes to claim a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title next weekend.
While she will be representing Kazakhstan but there will be envious glances cast from her native Russia. Rybakina was born in Moscow but switched allegiance to neighbouring Kazakhstan in 2018 when she was struggling at 175 in the world. Three years on, the 21-year-old is her adopted country’s number one with a world ranking of 22.
Ironically, had she stayed loyal she would also now be Russia’s highest-ranked player, an honour currently claimed by number 30 Veronika Kudermetova.
Rybakina is the latest in a long line of players to have gone Kazakh in recent years.
“The legend of the sport," Rybakina said of the 23-times Grand Slam winner. “I want to be with her on the court, to feel this power and everything. Of course the goal is to win, so I’m going to do everything possible," Rybakina said ahead of the match.
Former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, enjoying her best run at Roland Garros since 2013, will play No. 31 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
In the men’s division No. 2-seeded Daniil Medvedev, who began the tournament with an 0-4 record at Roland Garros, has seemingly conquered his aversion to clay and will face No. 22 Cristian Garin.
The Greek fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas moved a step closer in his quest to win his maiden Grand Slam as he entered the second week of the French Open, but he must first find a way past claycourt specialist Pablo Carreno Busta in the last-16 on Sunday.
Tsitsipas has impressed on the European claycourt swing this season — lifting his first ATP Masters title in Monte Carlo followed by another trophy in Lyon — and has more wins on the surface than any other player in 2021.
The 22-year-old was tested by American John Isner in the third round on Friday before he emerged victorious in four sets but Spain’s Carreno Busta has also enjoyed an impressive spell on the red dirt in the lead up to the Paris major.
The 12th seed won an ATP 250 event in Marbella before making a run to the semi-finals in Barcelona — where he was beaten by Rafa Nadal.
Meanwhile, sixth seed Alexander Zverev and Kei Nishikori have already played twice this clay season and the Japanese will be hoping to be third time lucky in Paris after losing in Rome and Madrid.
Having never won a match at the claycourt Grand Slam in four previous appearances, Daniil Medvedev will look to break even when he takes on Chile’s Cristian Garin in the fourth round.