A very focused, businesslike, Iga Swiatek swept aside Aryna Sabalenka, 6-3 6-2, to reach the finals of the GNP Seguro WTA Finals in Cancun on Sunday, and kept her hopes of regaining her World No 1 status alive, providing she can beat Jessica Pegula, the World No 5, in Monday’s championship match.
I feel like it’s still a long way away because I feel like tomorrow’s match will be the toughest one. We can talk about it tomorrow after the match. I’m just going to continue doing what I’ve been doing in [recent] days. I can’t truly tell you the keys for tomorrow. I’m going to work on that tonight. Iga Świątek
The mood that the 22-year old Pole is in, now that the wind and rain seems to have subsided, makes her the firm favourite to add the coveted Billie Jean King trophy to her 4 Grand Slam titles.
The semi-final against Sabalenka was suspended overnight on Friday because of the rain, adding to the drama of the current World No 1 and 2 vying for the year-end honours.
After enduring a very long day waiting for the doubles event to catch-up on its delayed matches, they resumed play with the score standing at 1-2, 30-30 on Sabalenka’s serve, and Swiatek broke immediately before dominating the Belarusian to take the win in just over 90 minutes.
“I’m really, really happy, I think that was the toughest and nicest match that I have played here,” Swiatek said after claiming her 67th win of the year, and the 10th of her current winning streak.
Swiatek served out the first set, hitting a sharp backhand down the line that Sabalenka couldn’t quite track down, sending her running forehand long.
While the wind wasn’t as wild as it had been all week, it played a role in keeping Sabalenka off-balance along the baseline, but Swiatek, with her flawless footwork, rarely looked out of sync.
The 3rd game of the second set was a test of wills, and it was eventually taken by Swiatek when she converted her 4th break point, drawing another error from Sabalenka.
Later, in the 7th game, Swiatek broke Sabalenka for the 3rd time in the match before serving out the win.
The final statistics underline the narrow margins at play in the match, Sabalenka finishing with only 5 winners to 18 unforced errors, while Swiatek clocked in with 9 and 9, consistent to the last.
The 22-year-old Pole was simply too good for Sabalenka on this day, dominating throughout by winning 80% of her first-serve points, against the Belarusian’s not-too-shoddy 70%.
The Pole was also potent when it came to winning her second-serve points, taking 11 of the 17 points she played, while scoring 14 of 21 points off Sabalenka’s deliveries.
In all, Swiatek created 7 break points on the Sabalenka serve, and converted 4 of these, while she also saved both the break points she faced in the match.
Pegula is her final challenge of the year, who also has come through the difficult conditions in Cancun without loss of a set over the 4 matches she has played.
It only took an hour for Pegula to beat her doubles partner and fellow American Coco Gauff on Saturday in a 6-2 6-1 win to continue her exceptional tournament form.
Speaking after her win against Sabalenka, Swiatek said of regaining her top spot: “I feel like it’s still a long way away because I feel like tomorrow’s match will be the toughest one.
“We can talk about it tomorrow after the match. I’m just going to continue doing what I’ve been doing in [recent] days.
“I can’t truly tell you the keys for tomorrow. I’m going to work on that tonight.”
There is a huge amount at stake for the young Pole because if Pegula prevails, Sabalenka will finish as the year-end No 1 for the first time in her career.
It is only the 5th time this century that the No 1 ranking is in play at the WTA Finals, the last occurring in 2009, when Serena Williams caught Dinara Safina at the finish line.
Swiatek has found a new freedom with her game, and is relishing showing the fans what she can do, especially now that the wind has finally dialled down to a stiff breeze.
She is 6-3 in her career matches against Sabalenka, and has won all 4 of her matches at Estadio Paradisus against Top 10 players – Coco Gauff, Ons Jabeur and Marketa Vondrousova – dropping just 19 games in Cancun, the fewest by any player to reach the WTA Finals championship match since Justine Henin in 2007.
Swiatek is also the youngest player to reach the WTA Finals championship match since Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka in 2011.
Pegula, meanwhile, is also 4-0, winning all her Top 10 matches in straight sets against Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina, and Maria Sakkari, and the first to face the Nos.1 2 3 and 4-ranked players in the same tournament since the WTA Tour rankings came into being in 1975.
She also could become the first to defeat them all.
“Obviously, with Iga, I think having two wins over her this year is going to give me a lot of confidence,” Pegula told reporters. “But I think she’s someone where, when she’s hot, she can kind of steamroll everybody. And I feel like that’s what she’s doing right now.”
The head-to-head record favours Swiatek, 5-3, but Pegula won the last time they played, in a 3-set semi-final in Montreal this summer.