Friday, December 2, 2022

Sabalenka stuns Swiatek to reach WTA Finals title

Aryna Sabalenka stood stoically ever so briefly, before crouching for an emphatic fist pump to go with a scream.
Yeah, the seventh-ranked woman in the eight-player WTA Finals couldn’t hide the emotion, because she knew exactly what she had done.
Sabalenka ended world No. 1 Iga Swiatek’s 15-match winning streak against top-10 opponents, taking a 6-2, 2-6, 6-1 victory in the semifinals of the season-ending event.
The stunner puts Sabalenka in final Monday night against No. 6 Caroline Garcia, who streamrolled Maria Sakkari 6-3, 6-2 and can become just the second Frenchwoman to win WTA Finals after Amelie Mauresmo in 2005.
Swiatek, the French Open and U.S. Open champion and runaway leader with eight tour victories, cruised through three round-robin victories, losing just 13 games to give her the longest winning run against top-10 opponents since Steffi Graf won 17 straight in 1987.
Just like that, it was over when the 21-year-old from Poland lost the last five games against a player she had beaten in all four meetings this season.
Sabalenka was No. 1 when she beat Swiatek in round-robin play at last year’s WTA Finals, but neither player made the semifinals. With that much out of the way for both, Sabalenka showed how comfortable she was on the temporary indoor hard court at Dickies Arena. Nine of her 10 career victories have come on hard courts.
“I just want to make sure that every time she plays against me, she knows that she really has to work hard to get a win,” said Sabalenka, whose fourth loss this year to Swiatek was a three-setter in the U.S. Open semifinals. “Only because of this thinking, I was able to play at this amazing level tonight.”
Swiatek fell behind one break in the final set with two wide forehands before another one put her down two breaks. Sabalenka gave herself a match point with her 12th and final ace, then hit another serve so good, Swiatek’s lunging return was wide and long.
After a tour-best 67 victories and a 37-match unbeaten run from February to June that was the longest in women’s tennis in a quarter-century, this wasn’t quite the ending Swiatek had in mind.
“In the third, I just started making mistakes from shots that I wouldn’t make mistakes usually,” Swiatek said. “At the beginning of the first set, I just wanted to be kind of focused. Maybe I didn’t realize soon enough that I should be more pepped up.”
Meanwhile, Garcia is the third French player to reach the semifinals in her first two WTA Finals appearances after Francoise Durr (1972 and 1973) and Mary Pierce (1993 and 1994). “It’s definitely a great achievement. I was already really proud to be in the Top 8. I don’t really know if I realize that this is the semifinal tomorrow. It proves that this year was definitely a good year. Today, it’s one more thing that proves my game style is working and I have to keep going that way,” Garcia was quoted as saying by the WTA.

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