Sabs slays Swiatek in Madrid

IN the latest chapter of the famed rivalry between the top two female tennis players in the world, Aryna Sabalenka downed Iga Swiatek in three sets to take out the Madrid Open 1000 title. The world number two won 6-3 3-6 6-3 in two hours and 26 minutes for her first win over the world number one since 2021.

The pair had faced off on seven previous occasions – including three times in the past six months – with Swiatek winning all three including the Stuttgart final this year. Not since Sabalenka was the top seed at the 2021 WTA Finals has the Belarusian been able to salute, but that six-match drought was broken when she got up over her nemesis in a hard-fought contest.

Only serving the five aces to one, Sabalenka was more reliable on serve than she can tend to be, with only three double faults and a 60.6 per cent first serve percentage. Though her first serve points won was lower than usual – just 63.2 per cent – her second serve success rate was up with 56.8 per cent in her favour.

Sabalenka broke four times to three, though had double the break point opportunities (12-6) and only won three more points in total (88-85) than Swiatek. It was neck and neck throughout the match, and the additional break proved the difference between the combatants as they head to Rome for the next WTA 1000 clay tournament.

“It’s always tough battles against Iga,” Sabalenka said post-match. “She always pushes me to the limits. I really enjoy our battles. Hopefully, we can play many more finals this season.”

The win marked Sabalenka’s second Madrid title, having won there in 2021. On that occasion, Sabalenka also knocked off the world number one, defeating Australian Ash Barty to lift the trophy aloft. In 2023, Sabalenka needed four championship points to close the match out, but was able to get it done with her 32nd winner of the contest.

“[The third set] wasn’t easy at all, but I kind of expect something like that from Iga, that she’s gonna fight for the last point,” Sabalenka said. “Super happy how I was able to mentally handle this situation and to keep fighting and keep trying.”

Both players head to Rome, where Sabalenka will take on the winner of former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin or Spaniard Cristina Bucsa in the second round after a first round bye, while Swiatek sets her sights on either Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Italian Sara Errani as the two-time defending champion.

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