There’s a cracking final in prospect in the women’s Italian Open, with Moscow-born Grand Slam champion Elena Rybakina taking on Ukrainian novice Anhelina Kalinina at Rome’s Foro Italico on Saturday evening.
Unsurprisingly, Wimbledon champion is a warm favourite to take the title in the last big event of note in the lead-up to the French Open.
She’s a 3/10 chance and the Kazakhstan representative is likely to prove difficult to beat.
However, Kalinina, who will be contesting the first big final of her career, won her only previous clash with Rybakina 6-4 2-6 6-4 on Charleston’s green clay in April last year.
Kalinina is playing just about as well as she has ever done, so there is hope that the outsider can at least make life tough for her opponent, even though the market suggests Rybakina is likely to triumph in straight sets.
|WTA Rome final: Elena Rybakina v Anhelina Kalinina
|Foro Italico, Rome, Italy
|19:00, Saturday 20th May 2023
|How to watch
|bet365 live Sports Streaming, Amazon Prime
|Elena Rybakina 3/10, Anhelina Kalinina 5/2
There has recently been a push to promote a ‘big three’ in women’s tennis - and the trio in the picture are Iga Swiatek, Australian Open champion and Wimbledon heroine Rybakina.
But while Rybakina had previously done her best work on faster surfaces, her efforts in Rome in the last week-and-a-half mean she must now be ranked one of the finest all-court players in the world.
If there was any doubting her credentials following her Wimbledon title triumph last July, Rybakina backed up her mission statement when reaching the final of the Australian Open in January.
The 23-year-old got off to a flyer in the Melbourne title match but had little answer to Sabalenka’s power game once the Minsk native got going in her 4-6 6-3 6-4 maiden Slam singles triumph.
Rest assured, though, that Rybakina has the talent to trouble Sabalenka more in future.
And with that in mind, it’s difficult to see how Kalinina, despite being three years older than Rybakina, can make it two wins in as many meetings with her Rome final foe.
That ‘big three’ notion carries a good deal of weight and, of Sabalenka and Rybakina, it’s the latter who looks more capable of troubling Swiatek in the coming years.
This week saw Rybakina post her third straight win over the Polish world number one - the pair have met on four occasions - and there is no fluke whatsoever in the Kazakhstan resident’s run of victories.
Kalinina should be in her physical prime at 26 years of age and so perhaps it’s no coincidence that she has only now posted the best performance of her career at a big tournament.
Seeded 30th in Rome, Kalinina has beaten Anna Blinkova and former Grand Slam singles champion Sofia Kenin in straight sets before a run of three-set triumphs over Slam singles finalist Madison Keys, the hugely promising Qinwen Zheng and, in the semi-finals, 11th seed Veronika Kudermetova.
That’s a terrific effort by anyone’s standards and entitles Kalinina to a good deal of respect, even against the hugely talented Rybakina.
Kalinina is not without a chance of upsetting the odds in the final, especially considering the quality of the performances she has posted in Italy in the last week-and-a-half.
But the fact she’s a 5/2 shot to defeat Rybakina should give punters a clue as to her chances of causing another surprise on Saturday night.
Weighing up all the factors, such as the form of Rybakina and Kalinina and their previous history, it’s difficult to argue with the oddsmakers’ expectations of a Rybakina triumph.
However, while a straight-sets win for the favourite is available at just 5/6, punters may get a lot more bang for their buck by backing Rybakina to win in three sets at 13/5.
There’s even a chance that Rybakina, with a view to Roland Garros which starts later in May, may not be fully fired up for her Rome final appointment.
And with Kalinina having shown plenty of appetite for a battle in the Eternal City this year, allied to the fact that she won two sets against Rybakina in their previous rumble, it’s worth taking the chance that she could win a set in their second encounter.
A case can also be made for backing a three-set match at 6/4 - it’s 1/2 that the clash is over in two sets.
But considering Kalinina’s inexperience in big matches compared to that of her younger opponent, it’s probably worth sticking with the favourite, who looks a sure-fire future world number one.