Jasmine Paolini pushes by lethargic Elena Rybakina at French Open

Rybakina got off to a very slow start against Paolini at the French Open. Here is what happened next.
Jasmine Paolini at the French Open
Jasmine Paolini at the French Open / Robert Prange/GettyImages

Elena Rybakina needed to wait. She likely did not want to have to, but she began her quarterfinal match at the French Open against Jasmine Paolini in such a seemingly sleepy state that Rybakina could barely win a point off of Paolini's serve. To be clear, she could not win a point off the Italian's serve for the first several games of the first set.

Rybakina appeared as if she did not care if she was on the court or not as she often overhit the ball and had an abundance of unforced errors. Her natural power and her ability to overpower seemed dull in comparison to the extremely sharp Paolini. The question in the first set might have been more about how long it would take Paolini to win than if Rybakina could make a comeback.

Rybakina is clearly not a bad player. She won Wimbledon in 2022 and made the final of the Australian Open in 2023. The Kazakhstani just needed to wait until the Italian dropped in form at all to have any chance of winning. Paolini was playing at such a high level - probably the best tennis she had played in her career - that even a slight drop in form might still be better than how Rybakina was playing.

Jasmine Paolini into French Open semifinals after defeating Elena Rybakina

The Kazakhstani had far too many second serves throughout the match, but the first set was wretched. She could still win the match, but she would need to play perfectly in the second set. There was hope relatively early in the second set, too. Rybakina got a break of Paolini, which in itself appeared miraculous as well as Paolini was serving, and Rybakina just needed to keep holding on her own serve.

Then Paolini's form ticked back up while Rybakina's dipped and the Italian got a break back. This would have seemed to be all the Italian needed as well as she was serving. Instead, Rybakina got her second break of the second set to event the set at 4-all.

Maybe Paolini began to tighten up. She had never reached a quarterfinal at a Grand Slam before the 2024 French Open. She had never made it past the second round at Roland Garros entering this year's event. Rybakina was the more experienced player in terms of high-stress matches late in majors.

The Kazakhstani also increased the speed of her forehand in the second set by four MPH and he backhand by five MPH. This was enough for Rybakina to get her third break and win the set and even the match. Paolini had to feel as if she was on the verge of a surprisingly easy victory and losing the second set had to feel crushing.

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Instead, at the beginning of the third set, neither player appeared as if they wanted to win the match. The first four games of the set featured breaks of service. This followed the trend of the end of the second set when there were three breaks of service in four games at the end of the set. Finally, Rybakina held to put her up 3-2 but both still on serve.

After both players held serve until 4-all, Paolini broke through once more to take a 5-4 lead. Unlike much of the last two sets, she held fairly easily to win the match and move on to the semifinals. Rybakina had chances after the first set, but she simply waited too long to be a danger in the match.

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