France’s Caroline Garcia landed the biggest title of her career at the WTA Finals in Fort Worth, Texas, on Monday night with a tight set win over Aryna Sabalenka, 7-6(4) 6-4, outlasting the No 7 seed from Belarus in an hour and 41 minutes.
To all the people I have been able to share the past up and to winning this trophy. I met a lot of people along the way; some people are here, and some met me when I was a 12-year-old little girl. I took memories and positives from all those experiences. All these experiences made me a better person and a better player. Caroline Garcia
“I’m very proud of how I was able to keep my mind calm and really focus on one point at a time, one game at a time,” she said. “Today was such an intense final.”
It was indeed a high-powered affair that in reality could well have gone either way at the Dickies Arena, but Garcia edged the thin margins as both put in near-perfect serving performances.
“Caroline, I really hate you right now,” Sabalenka said with a smile during the trophy ceremony. “But you played unbelievable tennis tonight, and not only tonight.
“This year, you played unbelievable tennis, so congrats on the results so far. I’m very sure there’s many more to come, and I hope we play more finals. We’ll see what happens in the next one!”
The first set featured zero break points, but Garcia proved the more efficient, striking 11 aces to keep Sabalenka at bay and converted the only break point of the match to win the biggest title of her career.
She become the first French WTA Finals champion since Amélie Mauresmo in 2005 and, at 29, is also the oldest champion since Serena Williams lifted the trophy in 2014.
“To all the people I have been able to share the past up and to winning this trophy,” Garcia said on court with the trophy. “I met a lot of people along the way; some people are here, and some met me when I was a 12-year-old little girl.
“I took memories and positives from all those experiences. All these experiences made me a better person and a better player.”
In the tiebreak, Sabalenka’s second serve, which has let her down so many times this season, failed her again, first with a costly double-fault that put her 2-5 down, and then another on set point.
Garcia kept the pressure on from there, breaking to open the second and coming through a tense deuce game to seal the match.
“You bring so much energy on the court every time, it’s always a pleasure to watch,” Garcia told Sabalenka after receiving the Billie Jean King trophy from American great Chris Evert. “It’s great to have all your energy in women’s tennis. We really appreciate it.”
Garcia was ranked outside the top 70 in mid-June but has won 4 titles since then, as well as making the semi-finals of the US Open.
“It’s super important to keep improving,” said Garcia, who will now rise to a career-high of No 4 in the world. “If you don’t move forward, you’re moving backwards. And that’s not something we want to do on this team.”
Perhaps it was a subtle jibe at coach Bertrand Perret, who made a sudden departure just days ahead of the year-ending season championships last week.
She has since played near flawless tennis to finish second in the Tracy Austin Group and defeat World No 5 Maria Sakkari before triumphing over Sabalenka.
Although the Belarusian began 2022 ranked higher than Garcia, Sabalenka looked an even bigger long-shot to make the Finals after beginning the year struggling with her serve and confidence, and compiling many matches with 20 plus double-faults through a brutal first quarter.
The No 7 seed, though, rebounded on the clay and cemented her ‘miracle’ spot in the Top 8 with a second straight semi-final in Flushing Meadows, snapping a four-match losing streak to World No 1 Iga Swiatek to complete a sweep of the world’s Top 3, having also beaten 2nd-ranked Ons Jabeur from Tunisia and American Jessica Pegula, the 3rd seed, earlier in the week to reach Monday’s championship match.
Sabalenka now rises to World No 5.
“I’m not going to say thank you to my team because it’s so many double-faults, you guys are such a bad team — no, no, no, I’m joking,” Sabalenka said. “It’s been a challenging year for us. Thank you so much for your support.”
After admirably serving from behind to force the breaker, Sabalenka looked to have the edge when she opened with a hair-raising rally, but Garcia rebounded in style and won 6 straight points before claiming the set off an ill-timed double-fault.
Sabalenka’s late dip continued early in the second, allowing Garcia to claim the match’s first break, after which she held on for dear life, even as the Belarusian threatened to break back in the final game, striking a brilliant backhand to save championship point.
An un-returnable serve quickly brought up a second chance for Garcia, who converted when Sabalenka pulled her last forehand out wide.
“It’s definitely a lot of giant happiness,” Garcia said in her post-match press conference. “A crazy final, a lot of intensity on every point.
“Just really proud of the work we did through all the year. It was a great match – really went for it. I’m really happy to win my biggest title.
In the end, the two players were disarmingly true to the form they have demonstrated across the 2022 season.
Garcia, who leads the Hologic WTA Tour in aces, cracked 11 on this occasion, with 10 in the first set alone, while Sabalenka, for whom double-faults have been her downfall, hit 2 of her 3 in the critical first-set tiebreak.
“I just dropped my level for a little bit,” Sabalenka said in her post-match press conference. “On the tiebreak and the first game of the second set. That’s it.
“I did my best, [but] she played unbelievable tennis.”
A debilitating series of injuries left Garcia languishing in the mid-70 rankings back in June, which was whenshe decided to re-commit to this taking-it-early game style of aggressive tennis.
“Just very happy about the mindset, to be really calm at every moment,” she said. “All the negative emotion doesn’t affect me, and that was really a big part of taking the few opportunities I had in the tiebreaker and the first game I broke her in the second.”
No one plays quite like Garcia, who has exquisite timing with which to rush her opponents, but this makes for an exceedingly narrow margin for error and, at times, her hit-or-miss methods can easily backfire.
Nowadays, healthy again, it has been a winning formula for the resurgent Frenchwoman.
Earlier, Russian Veronika Kudermetova & Elise Mertens from Belgium upset the defending champions, Czech duo Barbora Krejcikova & Katerina Siniakova, 6-2 4-6 [11-9] to win the doubles title.
The 4th seeds came back from 7-2 down in the match tiebreak to collect their second doubles title of the season, and their third victory together since pairing up last year.
“It’s tough to say right now because a lot of emotions,” Kudermetova said at the post-match press conference. “But I think we’re so happy and so proud of our team.”
This was Kudermetova’s 5th career WTA doubles title, and the 16th for Mertens.
After this victory, Kudermetova is expected to rise to a career-high ranking of doubles world No 2, and Mertens will move into the Top 5.