Iga Swiatek went under cover and led The Kites to a hard fought win over The Hawks on Day 4 of the World Tennis League in Dubai, taking her team to the top of the leaderboard.
Again Iga, the rock of our team kept us alive. Got a lot of points on the board. It was a great match, I hope the crowd enjoyed it. It was high level. Congrats to Dominic [Thiem] also for raising the bar and playing well. Felix Auger-Aliassime
The World No 1 was in fine form against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, winning 6-3 6-4 after an 80 minute contest to put The Kites back into the lead after The Hawks took the opening rubber by a slim margin in the mixed doubles.
Alexander Zverev & Elena Rybakina defeated Felix Auger-Aliassime & Sania Mirza in a close encounter, 5–7 6–3 [5–10].
It was the second win for Zverev in Dubai, the German having stunned Novak Djokovic in a men’s singles rubber on Tuesday, and it gave The Hawks a 12-11 lead over The Kites.
The match was a closely contested affair from the outset, with both teams battling hard for the win.
The clear leader of her team, Swiatek went undercover in a Hawks shirt to try to listen in on the tactics of Hawk rivals Zverev & Rybakina, and was swiftly rebuffed with a laugh.
Zverev & Rybakina got off to the stronger start, winning the tight first set 7-5, but Auger-Aliassime & Mirza fought back in the second to level the match and take proceedings into a deciding match tiebreak.
At the last, it was Zverev & Rybakina who came out on top, winning the breaker by 10 points to 5 to put The Hawks ahead.
Swiatek was up next, and she was in no mood to let things slip against Pavlyuchenkova, a surprise replacement for the injured Anett Kontaveit who was making her first appearance in singles in more than 7 months.
Again Swiatek proved her mettle against a worthy opponent, having dispatched Caroline Garcia in her previous WTL match on Monday.
The opening break went to the 21-year old Pole, who made the stronger start, but the Russian quickly retaliated, and added a second break to take a 4-3 lead, but Swiatek then won the next 3 games to pocket the first set, allowing Pavlyuchenkova just one more point in the run.
The Russian, who has been ranked as high as 21 in the world and cut short her season in May for treatment on a troublesome knee, is a wily rival, and she broke Swiatek early in the second to take a 3-1 lead, saving 4 break points herself in the process.
Swiatek again showed both her resilience and her talent as she struck back, winning 5 straight games to take the match in straight sets and place The Kites firmly in front, 23-19.
“Truth be told, I wasn’t counting games,” she admitted. “I’m pretty confident I can focus on other things in matches, change something up with my tactics, or just implement what I’ve been working on in the off-season.
“The score isn’t the most important thing here. Mostly it’s fun and learning, so I’m pretty happy that I played such a solid game.”
Swiatek added that, even as the World No 1, she still has a lot to learn.
“There’s always something to improve,” she said. “I’m 21, so I think I can actually do many things, but on volleys, especially, we’ve been working on my volley game.”
In the men’s singles match, Auger-Aliassime was pitched against Dominic Thiem but a new WTL rule overshadowed the outcome of this high quality contest.
It was one of the best matches of the 2022 World Tennis League, and it would prove to be the winning rubber.
In the first set, Dubai fans saw each player break the opponent’s serve once, and the set was eventually decided in a tiebreak in which the Canadian prevailed, winning it 7-2 and earning an important lead in the match.
There were no breaks or break opportunities in the second, so this too needed a breaker to resolve but, this time, the Austrian carved out a set point, only for Auger-Aliassime to level the score at 6-6.
Then, as the players changed ends, the umpire informed them that under the WTL rules, the next point would decide the match.
Under normal circumstances, tiebreaks are played until one of the players leads by more than 2 points after the score reaches 6-6.
‘Sudden death’ in this scenario is unfair to the receiver and, in this case, it was Auger-Aliassime to serve, who promptly delivered an ace.
Thiem’s expression said it all, but then the 29-year old smiled, realising this is just exhibition event.
He struggled for form after having been out of action for 9 months with a wrist problem before returning to action in the spring.
Previously ranked a career-high of No 3 in the world, Thiem lost the first 7 matches of his comeback and had dropped to No 346 in the rankings by July.
After a 5-week training block in the early summer, Thiem began to find his game and amassed a 23-12 win-loss record across both the Challenger and ATP tours, rising to 102 in the rankings, thanks to semi-final appearances in Gstaad, Gijon and Antwerp.
“I have the feeling that I’m going in a good direction,” he said after the match. “The way is positive for me, the way I’m practising, I’m very happy about it.
“I think I’m on my way to reach the goals for the off-season, which was to get those last missing percentages.
“And I feel that I’m playing better, like at the end of the 2022 season, which is a good sign. Coming towards the end of the season, coming closer and closer to the first real matches again and I’m happy about it.”
As for Auger-Aliassime, he had sealed the deal for the Kites by edging Thiem, 7-6(2) 7-6(6), to give his side an emphatic 42-31 victory over the Hawks.
“Again Iga, the rock of our team kept us alive,” he said on court. “Got a lot of points on the board.
“It was a great match, I hope the crowd enjoyed it. It was high level. Congrats to Dominic also for raising the bar and playing well.”
The last 2 ties of the round robin stage will be played on Friday, The Eagles against The Hawks in the afternoon, with The Falcons taking on The Kites in the evening, which will determine the two teams who will meet in the final on Saturday.
Day 4 Results – Kites d Hawks, 42-31
- Alexander Zverev & Elena Rybakina (Hawks) d Felix Auger-Aliassime & Sania Mirza (Kites), 7-5 3-6 [10-5]
- Iga Swiatek (Kites) d Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Hawks), 6-4 6-3
- Auger-Aliassime d Dominic Thiem, 7-6(2) 7-6(6)
Day 5 Schedule
Match 1: Eagles v Hawks
- Rohan Bopanna & Bianca Andreescu v Dominic Thiem & Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
- Caroline Garcia v Elena Rybakina
- Nick Kyrgios v Alexander Zverev
Match 2: Falcons v Kites
- Grigor Dimitrov & Paula Badasoa v Dominic Thiem & Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
- Aryna Sabalenka v Iga Swiatek
- Novak Djokovic v Felix Auger-Aliassime