Rome | It’s a Swiatek v Sabalenka rematch final

For the second time in 2 weeks Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka will combat a WTA 1000 title at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome on Saturday, after both posted straight set wins over Coco Gauff and Danielle Collins respectively on Thursday.

Honestly, I don’t think it makes sense to think about these two matches as one continuing story because it’s a totally different tournament. Well, different week, as well. It’s not like it’s going to be the same. I’ll try to be in the present, not really think about Madrid. Obviously I need to analyse this match in terms of the tactics. Not too much, as well, because it was pretty tight. I think we both could have done some things better. Iga Świątek

Swiatek, a 2-time Rome champion, upped her winning streak to 11 when she defeated Gauff for a 10th time in 11 meetings, 6-4 6-3, in the first semi-final of the day.

On a glorious sunny afternoon at the Foro Italico, Gauff escaped peril in the opening game and then broke Swiatek to go 2-0, but the Pole got herself into gear and recovered the deficit to level.

At 4-4 Gauff tried a drop-shot that found the tape, and at 40-15, she rushed and overhit a backhand into the net.

At 40-30, Swiatek blocked a return back that was coming at her head, then fired a forehand winner to make it deuce, which is when Gauff double-faulted, twice in a row, to gift the game.

Swiatek had the break she was looking for, and a few short minutes later, she had taken the first set.

This was their first meeting of 2024, and Gauff came in with a strike-first game plan designed specifically for this particular opponent.

She went bigger than normal on her serve, and leaned or jumped into her backhand, unafraid to go down the line when she had the chance.

For much of the contest, Gauff gave as good as as she got from Swiatek from the baseline, and held on until 4-all through the first 50 minutes, matching skittering defence with booming forehands, but those back-to-back double-faults left the 20-year old American swinging her racket in frustration as she gifted the top seed that crucial break.

The World No 1 did not hesitate, striking the line twice in 4 points, and emerging with the first set.

The second invariably followed, going with serve until Swiatek broke the 20-year-old to lead 3-2 and eventually booked her spot in the final, taking out the No 3-ranked player in the world in an enthralling hour and 47 minutes of play.

Swiatek wound up breaking Gauff 4 times, while giving up only the one break herself, and when it happened in the 5th game of the second set, the match was effectively over.

After the last backhand that had followed a sharp forehand service return, Gauff walked slowly to the net with a resigned look on her face.

Swiatek shook hands, acknowledged the chair umpire, and happily danced on Stadio Centrale.

When Swiatek paints the lines, as she did at the end, are there times when she feels unbeatable?

“No,” Swiatek said. “If I would feel that way, I wouldn’t play so well because I always try to remind myself that I shouldn’t expect anything, take anything for granted.

“Usually when I feel like this one is going to be a winner, I’m going to win this game, it doesn’t happen, so… I have to think a little bit differently to be more efficient.”

Coco Gauff stayed with Iga Swiatek for most of the first set but 2 double-faults gifted the break and, ultimately, the semi-final at the Foro Italico

© Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

As for Gauff, she admitted afterwards: “I would say, from just this match, I feel more negative emotions right now. Looking at the whole tournament, from where I started to now, I definitely feel like it’s major improvement.

“Against probably anybody else today, I would have won the match. I wanted to be aggressive, which I felt like I did. I think I missed some balls in some clutch moments. That’s what being aggressive is. I think if I continue to play in this way, I will be more consistent in that.

“I mean, she’s a great player,” Gauff added. “You have to play at the top of your game. I think I did that at moments. I think in the moments that mattered, I didn’t do it.

“The double-faults, they did come just in that one game. Overall, if I’m going 120 [miles per hour] on the serves, I have to expect that.”

Swiatek responded: “For sure these are nice words. Hard for me to say. She’s the one who’s playing this kind of tennis, and feeling what she can do with her racket. It’s a compliment from her.”

The master of the first-strike style that Gauff was trying to play, Swiatek was not bothered by the American’s aggression.

“It’s nice to play a semi-final against a top player, kind of, feel, like you can play your game and enjoy that,” Swiatek added.

The Pole will bid for a 3rd Italian Open title in 4 years as she also tries to become the first woman to sweep Madrid and Rome since Serena Williams 11 years ago, in 2013.

Two weeks ago, the Top 2 players in the rankings battled it out in a thriller of a final in Madrid, with Swiatek prevailing, 7-5 4-6 7-6(7), and it hasn’t taken long for a rematch.

“Honestly, I don’t think it makes sense to think about these two matches as one continuing story because it’s a totally different tournament,” Swiatek reflected. “Well, different week, as well. It’s not like it’s going to be the same.

“I’ll try to be in the present, not really think about Madrid. Obviously I need to analyse this match in terms of the tactics. Not too much, as well, because it was pretty tight. I think we both could have done some things better.”

Aryna Sabalenka got the better of Danielle Collins in the second semi-final to set up a repeat of the Madrid final against Iga Swiatek in Rome

© Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images

It’s the first time the No 1 and 2 are playing each other twice in a two-week span since 2000, and it will be the 5th time Sabalenka and Swiatek meet in a final, all of which have been on clay..

Sabalenka took to the court in the evening against the red-hot Danielle Collins, the 30-year old American who had won 19 of her last 20 matches, with the lone loss coming to the Belarusian in Madrid in 3 sets.

On Thursday, Sabalenka needed just two, recording a 7-5 6-2 win to take her head-to-head tally to 6-0 against Collins.

“I’m super happy to be in my first final in Rome,” Sabalenka said afterwards. “I think I played really great tennis today. I’m super happy with the win, especially in two sets, against Danielle.”

The 2nd seed raced out to a 4-1 lead in the first set before the American broke back to draw level, but Sabalenka eventually took the opener, and eased to victory, never facing a break point in the second set.

In fact, she was broken only once during the match, in the first set, but converted 4 break points herself and fired 4 aces to secure her win over the American after an hour and 23 minutes.

The Belarusian had an injury scare during her 4th round match on Monday against Elina Svitolina, when she experienced an issue with her lower back and called for medical attention after 2 sets, but she soldiered on and managed to overcome the Ukrainian in 3 very tight sets.

The 2-time Australian Open champion skipped practice, and spent her rest day undergoing treatment before easing past former Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko, 6-2 6-4, in the next round , and then dispatching Collins in the semi-finals.

After her win over Collins, though, Sabalenka revealed that she had been contemplating withdrawing from the Italian Open due to the injury, but had recovered in time to continue.

“I was considering retiring from the tournament,” she admitted. “Lucky me, I had an extra day. I was doing a lot of recovery. I’m still doing lots of exercise, lots of treatments, always taking care of my lower back. It’s getting better. So I guess we’re on the right way.”

She added that she would withdraw from the tournament if the injury resurfaced during the final in order to be fit for the 2024 French Open.

“I’m doing everything myself to recover as fast as I can, and to be ready for the Paris,” she said. “Right now I’m feeling great. I’m not in pain during the matches. Of course, if something going to happen in the match, I’m going to pull out because Paris is around the corner.

“Hopefully it’s not going to happen. I feel like it’s not going to,” the World No 2 added.

Sabalenka also paid tribute to the physiotherapists in Rome.

“It was a crazy injury. I thought, ‘Okay, I’m done in Rome’. But we did a great treatment, great physios,” Sabalenka said. “I really appreciate the physio that helped me to stay alive, and actually fix the problem.”

Despite the loss, Collins is still having an exceptional season, winning back-to-back titles at WTA 1000 Miami and WTA 500 Charleston last month, and going 19-2 in her last 21 matches, which should see her rise 7 places to No 12 in next week’s rankings.

Danielle Collins fought back in the opener but could not stop Aryna Sabalenka from winning in straight sets on Thursday evening in the second semi-final

© Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images

Sabalenka and Swiatek will meet for an 11th time, and the second this month after their epic 3-set final in Madrid.

“That match definitely hurt me,” Sabalenka said of missing 3 match points in that final. “It was a really tough loss, especially after having some match points, even though she played great tennis. Hopefully here in Rome I can get the win and get the title.

“I really like our tough battles. It’s always close matches,” she responded when asked on court about facing Swiatek. “I really enjoy playing against her.

“It’s always high level tennis. Hopefully we bring our best tennis and you guys enjoy watching us play. And hopefully, this time, I’m going to get this title with your support.”

This will be the 5th time Sabalenka and Swiatek meet in a final, all of those coming on clay.

Along with her win in the Madrid final last fortnight, Swiatek beat Sabalenka in the Stuttgart finals in 2022 and 2023, while the Belarusian did get a win over the Pole in the 2023 Madrid final.

“I think the level is there, the tennis is there, that I got everything to get this win,” Sabalenka said. “I just have to focus on myself, I guess, and not rush things, wait for the right shot to finish the point.”

Swiatek, of course, has already won the Italian Open twice and the French Open on three occasions.

Winning Madrid for the first time was a personal breakthrough and confidence has embodied Swiatek’s swashbuckling game, which is flowing freely as she clocks up winning 11 consecutive matches and looks for a 12th.

The Nos 1 & 2 in the world, Iga Swiatek (R) and Aryna Sabalenka, will meet in the Rome final on Saturday for the second time in as many weeks

© Julian Finney/Getty Images



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