Staring down her toughest rival in a match of the highest importance, Iga Swiatek offered a succinct reminder of her unparalleled brilliance as she dismantled Aryna Sabalenka, the world No 1, to reach the final of the WTA Finals for the first time.
“I’m really, really happy,” Swiatek said after her 6-3, 6-2 win. “I think that was the toughest and also the nicest match that I’ve played here.”
Sabalenka had been a win away from securing the year end No 1 ranking for the first time in her career, but with her victory, Swiatek will end the year as the best player in the world for the second straight year, if she clinches the title in Cancún.
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In the final, Swiatek will face Jessica Pegula, the fifth seed, who defeated Coco Gauff 6-2, 6-1 on Saturday to reach the biggest final of her career. Neither finalist has dropped a set after four matches.
Considering they have established themselves as the defining players this year, this season-ending tournament would have been incomplete without Sabalenka and Swiatek laying into each other one last time. Their rivalry has been an excellent spectacle this season, with Sabalenka defeating Swiatek in an instant classic Madrid Open final the last time they met. While Swiatek arrived in the match with a 5-3 lead in the head-to-head, Sabalenka has beaten Swiatek in consecutive WTA Finals, including in last year’s semi-final.
The pair had been scheduled to meet on Saturday but they only managed to complete three games before the heavens opened and play was suspended, forcing the final to be postponed to Monday. They returned for the semi-final on Sunday evening with Swiatek narrowly leading 2-1, 30-30 on serve. After a week of horrendous conditions, the wind and rain had faded and the conditions allowed both players to swing freely.
Aryna Sabalenka. Photograph: Fernando Llano/AP
Presented with the opportunity to perform on her own terms instead of merely trying to survive the elements, Swiatek soared. Her level and intensity was sky high from the very moment the match restarted, She immediately broke serve by winning the first two points of the day.
With the first break secured and momentum established, Swiatek did not let up until the end. She struck the ball so cleanly, constantly forcing Sabalenka into uncomfortable positions on the court, taking control of the baseline and vaporising all short balls. Swiatek’s immaculate returning, meanwhile, put Sabalenka under constant pressure on her serve.
Whenever Sabalenka managed to wrestle her way on top of the baseline, Swiatek’s immense movement allowed her to constantly elongate rallies and forced Sabalenka to play one extra shot.
“It hasn’t been easy during the whole week so I’m happy that today I could get even better and for sure it was tough even though it says 6-3, 6-2. Every point was important and every game was tight,” said Swiatek.
After her incredible breakout season last year, managing the expectations and pressure this season has not always been easy. But Swiatek has been extremely consistent, she has beaten the very best and compiled a record this season. On Monday, she will look to close it all off with one final triumph.