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Aryna Sabalenka stuns No. 1 Iga Swiatek to reach first final at WTA Finals
The former world No. 2 scored her first win over Swiatek in 12 months to join Caroline Garcia in a power tennis final in Fort Worth.
Published Nov 07, 2022
WATCH: Sabalenka navigated a second-set hiccup to dismantle the world No. 1 in an emphatic decider.
FORT WORTH, Texas—Aryna Sabalenka’s last win over Iga Swiatek came at the WTA Finals, and the tour’s season-ending championships once again proved fertile ground as the No. 7 seed outlasted the world No. 1, 6-2, 2-6, 6-1 to book a final against Caroline Garcia.
Sabalenka had lost all four meetings with Swiatek in 2022, but snapped the Pole’s seven-match win streak to reach the biggest final of her career in two hours and eight minutes on WTA Finals Stadium Court.
She also becomes the fourth woman to defeat the Top 3 players at the same tournament—Swiatek, Ons Jabeur, Jessica Pegula—joining an elite club that includes Stefanie Graf (1999 Roland Garros), Serena Williams (2002 Miami Open), and Venus Williams (2008 WTA Finals).
The accomplishment is magnified when considering Swiatek has been the single best player of the 2022 season, arriving to the WTA Finals with more than double the amount of ranking points of world No. 2 Jabeur thanks to two major victories at Roland Garros and the US Open, an Indian Wells-Miami “Sunshine Double” and eight total titles in 10 months. Coming into Sunday's match, she had also won her last 15 matches against Top 10 opposition.
Undefeated in round-robin play, the top seed didn’t drop a set coming into her first WTA Finals semifinal, but faced tricky opposition in Sabalenka, who was two games from defeating Swiatek in the US Open semifinals two months ago.
I gave her a lot of easy matches this season, and I think that’s enough for her. I wanted to make sure that, every time she plays against me, she knows she has to work hard to get a win. It was only because of this thinking that I was able to play such an amazing level tonight. Aryna Sabalenka
“I gave her a lot of easy matches this season, and I think that’s enough for her,” Sabalenka said. “I wanted to make sure that, every time she plays against me, she knows she has to work hard to get a win. It was only because of this thinking that I was able to play such an amazing level tonight.”
Where Swiatek’s has been a season of sustained excellence, Sabalenka has self-deprecatingly referred to her WTA Finals berth as a “miracle” after struggling mightily with her serve and only reaching one quarterfinal in the first four months of the year.
It wasn’t until the summer when Sabalenka began to show signs of the form that took her to No. 2 in the rankings last year, reaching semifinals at both Cincinnati and the US Open and winning two of her three round-robin matches earlier in the week.
“I think it’s enough miracles for me this season. It’s time for hard work. It was a great match and an unbelievable atmosphere,” she said on court, thanking the crowd for their support. “I just really wanted to stay for another match."
Despite spotty serving to start the second semifinal, Sabalenka edged ahead after a 40-minute first set, taking advantage of Swiatek’s flat start to break the Pole three times and strike a near-even nine winners to eight unforced errors.
Similar to their US Open encounter, Swiatek rallied with aplomb, tightening up her ground game to race into a commanding double-break lead. From losing 15 of 20 points, Sabalenka narrowly avoided 0-5 and converted a fifth break point opportunity to get on the board—only for Swiatek to respond by sweeping the next two games to level the match.
By the third set both women were towards their battling best, setting the stage for a titanic fourth game that saw a slew of breath-taking winners and rallies. Swiatek blinked first, missing on a pair of forehands to hand Sabalenka the first break of the decider.
For her part, Sabalenka took the initiative and put down some strong serving to consolidate, pressuring Swiatek into more errors as she sailed over the finish line, ready to leave it all on the court on Monday against Garcia.
“It’s the last match of the season. Who cares about our physical…who cares about that? I’m just ready to give everything I have.”