New York | Swiatek survives Sabalenka to make first US Open final

In Thursday’s second semi-final match at the US Open, World No 1 Iga Swiatek came from behind to defeat 6th-seeded Aryna Sabalenka, 3-6 6-1 6-4, in a tense and often nervy encounter to reach her maiden US Open final.

I felt a huge difference between the first set and the last two. I'm pretty happy that I got my level of energy up a little bit. Aryna made it difficult today, for sure. I felt like she was serving pretty solid. It was hard to come back in the third, but I'm pretty happy that I did. Iga Świątek

After a sluggish start, the Pole came alive in the second set, and overcame an early break in the decider by winning the final 4 games to see off the powerful Belarusian.

“Against Aryna you have to have the energy to push her back and be able to play those fast balls,” Swiatek said in an on-court interview. “In the first set I lacked a little bit of that so I needed to get it together.

“Drink some energy shots and just kind of go with it. I’m pretty glad that I did that.”

Both came out tense under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium, but it was Sabalenka who settled first, finding her service rhythm and dialling in her forehand against Swiatek, who has struggled at times in the past against the big hitters.

Sabalenka consolidated a break with an ace for 4-2, and captured the first set when she snuck in to the net behind a huge forehand, and sent a volley past the charging Swiatek.

Aryna Sabalenka had the match in her grasp but collapsed as Iga Swiatek swept past her to win the last 4 games on Thursday night in New York

© Elsa/Getty Images

The Belarusian looked poised to create an upset after a dominant first set performance in which she broke Swiatek no fewer than 3 times, but the Pole regrouped with the aid of an emergency toilet break.

“I kind of needed to go,” admitted Swiatek later. “For sure I felt lighter… I’m sorry — that’s disgusting!” the 21-year-old added.

“I tried to use that time to think about what to change because, I remember, when I was younger, all I would do in the bathroom between sets, after I lost, was cry.

“But this time I could think about what to change, and actually problem solve.”

Swiatek, who was forced to battle back from a set down in her 4th-round match against Jule Niemeier from German, raised her level in the second, serving better and breaking Sabalenka 3 times to level the contest.

She brought her power plays to the fore, breaking Sabalenka to love in the opening game, and backed up her big shots up with improved defence, rolling through the set to level the match.

After an early exchange of breaks in the decider, a volley winner gave Sabalenka a key break for 3-2 and, after consolidating, she was just 2 games away from her first major final.

Swiatek bided her time, though, and broke back to love for 4-4, wrapping up that game with a backhand cross-court winner.

At 5-4, a resurgent Swiatek finished off a rally with a winning overhead to reach 0-40 and triple-match point.

A forehand winner by Sabalenka saved the first but, on the second, the Belarusian’s backhand found the net.

Swiatek finished the match with 2 more winners and 12 fewer unforced errors than Sabalenka, saving her best tennis for the latter stages of the match.

The top seed had fought back from a one-set deficit, as well as from a break down in the third set, twice, before edging Sabalenka out of contention after the 2-hour, 11-minute contest.

“I felt a huge difference between the first set and the last two,” Swiatek said in her post-match press conference. “I’m pretty happy that I got my level of energy up a little bit.

“Aryna made it difficult today, for sure. I felt like she was serving pretty solid. It was hard to come back in the third, but I’m pretty happy that I did.”

Iga Swiatek found her A game when it mattered most against Aryna Sabalenka in the semi-final at Flushing Meandows

© Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Sabalenka had responded early in the decider, her confidence growing when her blistering backhand knocked her opponent backwards and onto the court as she raced out to a 2-0 lead, but the 24-year-old then collapsed as the feisty Swiatek refused to give in, breaking back with a backhand winner to level, only to be broken again to go 2-4 down.

Sabalenka looked to have nailed the decisive blow at this stage, but not only did she get broken on her next 2 service games, she only won just one point in both as she collapsed to a crushing loss.

Swiatek had bided her time in taking the last 4 games of the match, leaving Sabalenka distraught at the loss as she advanced to her first final in Flushing Meadows when the Belarusian’s backhand landed in the net.

“I feel like Aryna served pretty well today, better than on our other matches,” Swiatek said. “[Losing the first two games of the third set] kind of helped me to get back on ground and realise I still have a lot of expectations, even though the second set was pretty dominant.

“I just went all in, you know. This time it actually gave me a lot, and the balls that I played went in.

“I’m pretty happy because I feel, like, we were both, kind of, sometimes, risking, because the pace was really, really high.”

For Sabalenka, it marks her 3rd narrow loss in a Grand Slam semi-final, having fallen in the same round at 2021 Wimbledon and the 2021 US Open, and losing all 6-4 in the third set.

Later she appeared at a press conference with mirrored sunglasses on, and a baseball cap pulled over her face.

“My team keeps telling me that I have to be proud of myself, what I have done in the last months,” she said. “But I don’t feel that way.

“I feel like in these three semi-finals I had so much opportunities, and I didn’t use it.”

Swiatek, a two-time French Open champion, will gun for her 3rd Grand Slam title when she faces dynamic Tunisian Ons Jabeur, who cruised to her semi-final with a straight sets demolition of Caroline Garcia from France, 6-1 6-3.

With her win, Swiatek became the first Polish woman to ever reach the US Open final, while Jabeur is now the first African woman of the Open era to do the same earlier in the day.

The head-to-head between Swiatek and Jabeur is dead-locked at two wins apiece, and they are 1-1 on hard courts.

“[Jabeur] has a different game style than most of the players,” Swiatek said. “She has a great touch.

“All these things mixed up, yeah, she’s just a tough opponent.”

Iga Swiatek shakes with a distraught Aryna Sabalenka after their semi-final encounter on Thursday

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