Victoria Azarenka's US Open runner-up run was a feast of impressive victories: a 6-4, 6-2 third-round win over future Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek; a 6-1, 6-0 quarterfinal thumping of No. 16 seed Elise Mertens; and of course, a trend-busting semifinal defeat of Serena Williams.
Before any of those triumphs, in the second round, Azarenka beat the tournament’s No. 5 seed, and fellow Belarusian, Aryna Sabalenka, 6-1, 6-3. In retrospect, it was a signal that Azarenka was about to do something similar to what she had achieved at the same venue a week earlier, at the Western & Southern Open.
“I felt like I stepped on the court and I was really making her earn every single point that we played,” said Azarenka. “That was my goal to be really, really strong. If you hit a good shot, it's a good shot, but I’m going to make you work a little harder.”
While the setting and the stakes of their next match, on Saturday in Ostrava, is much different than their last one, Azarenka would likely have the same goal coming into it. Coming off two commanding wins over Mertens and Maria Sakkari in the quarters and semis, Azarenka hasn’t skipped a beat in her return to hard courts—she’s now reached three consecutive finals on the surface.
While Sabalenka can’t match that torrid pace, she’s arguably been even more impressive than Azarenka in Ostrava. She began her tournament—in singles—with a, unlikely comeback win over Coco Gauff, after losing the first set 6-1 and trailing 5-2 in the third. In her second match, she rallied from a shutout first set—and a 0-4 second-set deficit—to stun Sara Sorribes Tormo, 0-6, 6-4, 6-0.
Perhaps rewarded for her resilience by the tennis gods, Sabalenka played a masterful semifinal against Jennifer Brady on Saturday, silencing the heavy hitter 6-4, 6-4.
In addition, Sabalenka is also competing in the doubles final.
It will be a busy day in Europe across both tours, but the Ostrava final is especially significant in that it’s the second-to-last scheduled WTA tournament of the season. The match-up is a fitting, and fascinating, send-off.