Rybakina downs Zhang in Hobart to win second WTA title


MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Rising Kazakh talent Elena Rybakina overcame a gulf in experience to beat China’s Zhang Shuai 7-6(7) 6-3 in the Hobart International final on Saturday and claim her second WTA title.

Rybakina was playing her second final in a week after losing the title-decider at the Shenzhen Open but the 20-year-old made no mistake this time around, adding the Hobart crown to the Bucharest Open title she won last July.

Zhang, 30, battled hard and held set point in the tiebreak in the opening stanza but faded after losing a fierce tussle for the sixth game of the second set.

Rybakina, showcasing her rasping forehand and showing no signs of the hip injury that hampered her in the semi-finals, rattled off four straight games to take the title, which she secured when Zhang went long after 93 minutes.

The victory will send Rybakina into the top 30 in the world for the first time next week. She faces American Bernarda Pera in the opening round of the Australian Open, where she is 29th seed.

Zhang, a quarter-finalist at Melbourne Park in 2016, had another chance to head off to the year’s first Grand Slam with a trophy in her bag but she and compatriot Peng Shuai went down 6-4 6-4 to Sania Mirza and Nadiia Kichenok in the doubles final.

It was Mirza’s first WTA title in over two years and the fifth for Ukrainian Kichenok.

Reporting by Nick Mulvenney and Amlan Chakraborty; Editing by Peter Rutherford