Indian Wells | Swiatek sweeps up 19th career trophy in the desert

Iga Swiatek hoisted her 19th career trophy at the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday at Indian Wells, beating Maria Sakkari in straight sets, and extending her lead at the top of the World rankings.

I would say, at the beginning of the tournament, I felt, like, I didn't have much luck with the draw. I played opponents that, sometimes, I struggled with. I lost against Linda [Noskova] in Australia this year. Then I was pretty stressed, actually, before facing Caroline Wozniacki [in the quarter-finals], because I felt like we haven't played in a while... But then, after that, I just felt, like, I could actually play my game more freely. Iga Świątek

“I’m happy I could improve during the tournament,” Swiatek said after her 6-4 6-0 win at the WTA 1000 tournament in the California desert. “Yeah, I’m really proud of myself.

“I’m super happy. I mean, even though this tournament looked like, the scores, maybe, I had everything under control, it wasn’t, from the beginning to the end, so easy.

“So I’m happy I could improve during the tournament. I felt really good on the last two matches, big amount of confidence. I’m really proud of myself.

“It hasn’t been easy after Australia, I’ve been working hard to play well.”

The 22-year old Pole was visibly emotional after the victory, rushing to her team to celebrate her 2nd title of the season, following the Qatar Open.

Asked about her big on-court reaction to the win during her post-match press conference, Swiatek said that while she is always excited to win a tournament, this win came with a little more ‘relief’, adding that she had not been feeling the best since her early exit at the Australian Open back in January.

The Pole admitted that, sometimes, she releases her emotions, while at other times she holds back, impulsively act on the spur of the moment.

“I feel, like, I’m usually excited when I win tournaments,” she said. “Sometimes, okay, there’s maybe a little bit more of the relief than just pure happiness. But right now I just feel I’ve done really good work.

“Maybe because of that, I just know that it hasn’t been easy after Australia, and I’ve been working hard to play well, and to handle everything, mentally, well. So I’m just proud of myself maybe because of that.”

Swiatek had suffered a surprise early exit at the Australian Open, upset by Czech teenager Linda Noskova, 6-3 3-6 4-6, but she avenged that loss at Indian Wells, beating Noskova 6-4 6-0 in the 3rd-round.

Some try to analyse Swiatek’s skills, such as her forehand, step speed and athleticism, but she says her greatest strengths lie in her ‘intensity, discipline and topspin’.

“I needed to learn how to balance this intensity,” she said. “When I was younger, I was more of a defensive player, and when I started working with Tomasz Wictorowski [her coach], he taught me how to be more aggressive.

“The discipline came when Daria [Abramowicz] came on the team, and she taught me how to be more focused.”


Iga Swiatek was on song against Maria Sakkari in Sunday's final, delivering yet another bagel set in the process

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Swiatek was certainly focused on Sunday against Sakkari, the 28-year old Greek, who had resurged in the California desert after a shaky start to her season.

Two years ago, Swiatek won her first Indian Wells title after dismantling Sakkari, 6-4 6-1, in the 2022 final, and, when they met again on Sunday, the outcome proved the same, and with a similar score, only the Pole added a bagel.

The top seed got off to a flying start in the final, winning 12 of the first 15 points, but it was a competitive match for much of the first set.

After Swiatek claimed the early break for a 3-0 lead, Sakkari, the 9th seed, managed to respond quickly, and, from 0-30 down on her serve in the 4th game, the Greek won 3 straight games to level the first set at 3-3, but from 4-4, the World No 1 found another level.

At the key moment, with Swiatek leading 5-4 and Sakkari serving to stay in the opener, the Pole earned 3 consecutive set points, and took the 3rd to pocket the set.

The loss clearly impacted Sakkari, whose challenge then faltered, and Swiatek cruised to the win without further threat or loss, conceding just 5 points in the second set.

By the end of the match, she had broken Sakkari 5 times, striking 15 winners overall, and had won 12 straight sets in her 2nd BNP Paribas Open title run, with the loss of just 21 games.

“I would say, at the beginning of the tournament, I felt, like, I didn’t have much luck with the draw,” Swiatek said later. “I played opponents that, sometimes, I struggled with. I lost against Linda [Noskova] in Australia this year.

“Then I was pretty stressed, actually, before facing Caroline Wozniacki [in the quarter-finals], because I felt like we haven’t played in a while. I didn’t really know how her game feels on my racket. I just have huge respect for her. This was the kind of match where I had to, kind of, work through the stress.

“But then, after that, I just felt, like, I could actually play my game more freely.”


Maria Sakkari made the first set competitive but was then overrun by Iga Swiatek in 68 minutes

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Swiatek now owns 8 career WTA 1000 titles, and 19 career Hologic WTA Tour titles in all, and she has won at least 2 titles in each of the last 4 seasons.

Sakkari and Swiatek are the 3rd pair to meet in multiple finals at Indian Wells, joining Martina Hingis and Lindsay Davenport, in 1998 and 2000, and Kim Clijsters and Lindsay Davenport, in 2003 and 2005.

The two have now split 6 career meetings, all of which have been decided in straight sets, and Swiatek has won the last 3.

Later, Sakkari admitted to some fatigue, needing 3 sets in 4 of her 5 matches leading into the final, especially her marathon battle against Coco Gauff in the semi-finals on Friday night, which lasted 2 hours and 42 minutes.

“I don’t want to disrespect Coco, but it would’ve been amazing if this match was over an hour ago,” Maria Sakkari said in her on-court interview afterwards.

While Sakkari acknowledged Swiatek’s stellar performance, she admitted that her fatigue had played a factor.

“I don’t think she was trying anything different,” Sakkari said in her post-match press conference. “Yeah, I think I was a little bit tired, I have to say. Not that it’s an excuse. I’m not saying that. She still played very good.

“You know, probably, maybe, things would have been different for me, like, the way I felt on the court if my previous match didn’t go, you know, as long as it went. You know, that’s why it’s important to close out matches when you have to.”

The Greek also pointed out that Swiatek’s tendency to close out her wins in straight sets played to her advantage during the later stages of tournaments, as she was less fatigued than her opponents.

“I feel like that’s why, you know, Iga does so well. If you look at her records, she rarely plays three sets. Then that really helps her in those later stages of the tournament,” she added.


Maria Sakkari has had a resurgence in the desert but admitted to feeling tired against Iga Swiatek on Sunday

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Sakkari, Swiatek, and Gauff will be back in action at the 2024 Miami Open, which starts on Tuesday, 19 March.

Following a 1st-round bye, top seed Swiatek will take on the winner of the match between Italy’s Camila Giorgi and her compatriot Magdalena Frech, from Poland.

Swiatek will attempt to become only the second woman after Steffi Graf, in 1994 and 1996, to complete the Sunshine Double twice, having achieved the feat for the first time in 2022.

Gauff, meanwhile, will enter the tournament as the 3rd seed, taking on either fellow American Ashlyn Krueger or a qualifier in the 2nd-round, while No 8 seed Sakkari will face the winner between Russia’s Anna Blinkova and Yuan Yue from China.


It was a full house on Stadium 1 as Iga Swiatek dispatched Maria Sakkari in Sunday's final at Indian Wells

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

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