Rome | Stunning Swiatek sweeps aside Sabalenka to meet Jabeur in final

Defending champion Iga Swiatek swept past Aryna Sabalenka into the Internazionali BNL d’Italia final in Rome on Saturday, notching up her 27th consecutive win, and she will meet Ons Jabeur, who found her way past Daria Kasatkina into the last 2 after saving a match point in her semi-final, and extending her winning streak to 11 matches.

So, tomorrow, the plane will crash, and there is only one parachute. I hope I take it! Ons Jabeur

The Polish World No 1 demolished Sabalenka, the 3rd seed from Belarus who is playing as a neutral, 6-2 6-1, to become the first player since Simona Halep to make 4 WTA 1000 finals in a single season in 2017.

“At these tournaments, where we play day after day, we don’t really get time to celebrate,” Swiatek said in her post-match interview. “Right after we finish the previous match, we have to think about the next one.

“It is pretty tough, but I know that, after, I am going to be really proud of myself. I am just constantly surprising myself that I can do better and better.

“I feel, like, I actually can believe now that the sky’s the limit. That’s the fun part, for sure.”

Her opponent in the final is Jabeur, who won her first WTA 1000 title in Madrid last weekend, and needed 3 sets to get past Kasatkina, an unseeded Russian also playing as a neutral, 6-4 1-6 7-5, after an hour 55 minutes.

The 9th seed from Tunisia, who also came from behind in her quarter-final against Maria Sakkari, the 4th seed from Greece, stared down defeat again when Kasatkina was poised on the brink of victory leading 5-4 in the decider and holding a match point.

“It is never easy to play [against Kasatkina],” Jabeur admitted later. “I know this surface, kind of, suits her very well because it is slow and she likes it. She was playing really well this week.

“It was a tough one for me, not being 100 per cent there, so I am pretty glad that I got the win and into the final again.

“I am exhausted, yes, but it is part of my job. It is going to help me push more tomorrow. There is only one match left.”

Aryna Sabalenka had no answers to Iga Swiatek's power game in the semi-finals at the Foro Italico

© Julian Finney/Getty Images

Swiatek is the clear favourite to defend her title against Jabeur on Sunday as she eyes a second French Open crown in Paris later this month.

The 20-year-old has now won 27 matches in a row, the 4th longest run of the century that matches Serena Williams’s record in 2015, and she outclassed Sabalenka in just over an hour to reach her 5th consecutive WTA final.

She is a worthy World No 1, having taken over the top spot following the retirement of Ash Barty in March, and, so far this year, she has only lost matches to Barty, Danielle Collins and Jelena Ostapenko while dropping just one set in the last 41 she has played.

Having already won the WTA 1000s in Doha, Indian Wells and Miami, Swiatek is relishing every challenge ahead of her,

“I’m pretty happy that I learned the lessons on previous matches,” she said. “On previous matches, I felt like I’m kind of letting my opponents come back to the match a little bit.

“This time I wanted to put pressure on my opponent from the beginning till the end. I think Aryna was under pressure, so it really helped me and that was my tactics.”

The top seed broke Sabalenka twice in the opening set to build a 3-1 lead before closing it out.

In the end, Sabalenka misfired on 16 unforced errors in the opener, while striking just 3 winners, compared to Swiatek, who kept a clean sheet with 5 winners to 6 unforced errors, pocketing the set in just 31 minutes.

In the second, the Pole jumped out to a 4-0 lead before Sabalenka snapped her run of 7 games to hold.

Down 4-1, Sabalenka, now the World No 8, had won only 2 of her service games, and took a medical timeout, but it only delayed the inevitable as Swiatek held on resumption, and closed out the win by breaking for the 6th time on the day, finishing the match with 15 winners and 15 unforced errors, against the 3rd seed’s 8 winners to an eye-watering 31 unforced errors.

The 20-year-old improved her overall head-to-head record with Sabalenka to 3-1, having also won both of their meetings earlier this year, in the Stuttgart final and Doha quarter-finals, in straight sets.

Ons Jabeur came back from the brink again to win against Daria Kasatkina and will meet Iga Swiatek in her 2nd WTA 1000 final in a row

© Julian Finney/Getty Images

Swiatek’s next challenge now is Jabeur in Sunday’s final, after the Tunisian demonstrated yet again her tenacity in getting past the crafty Kasatkina.

The topsy-turvy opening set, in which neither could get into any real rhythm, saw Jabeur earn a break with a forehand winner to take a late 5-4 lead before serving for the set, but she had to save 2 break points as she closed it out.

Stung at dropping the first, Kasatkina continued to play aggressively in the second, and dominated as unforced errors began creeping into Jabeur’s game.

She earned herself 2 breaks to level proceedings at a set apiece, and looked the more comfortable on the red Roman clay going into the decider, momentum firmly in her grasp.

Jabeur failed to convert her first 7 break points, but she did so in the 6th game with a forehand winner to take a 4-2 lead but then, unable to put away a straightforward smash, the Tunisian handed Kasatkina a break point at 4-4 and the Russian came back, winning 3 consecutive games to go up 5-4.

On a day when one of her trademark shots, the drop-shot, was not working, Jabeur still found 2 of the best ones at key moments, saving Kasatkina’s only match point with another fine forehand winner before breaking to draw level at 5-5 with a drop-shot winner, the start of a 3-game winning run of her own, and sealing the win with another glorious drop-shot.

Ons Jabeur (L) greets a shell-shocked Daria Kasatkina who lost after failing to convert a match point

© Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images

Jabeur, who has lost 48 games getting to the final, while Swiatek has dropped just 17, has spent many more hours on the match court and, with the Pole putting in her best performance of the week against Sabalenka, the Tunisian has a steep hill to climb to beat the World No 1 on Sunday despite leading 2-1 in their head-to-head meetings.

The Tunisian prevailed twice in Cincinnati and at Wimbledon in 2021 after Swiatek scored her only win over Jabeur in Washington in 2019.

“Playing Iga, someone didn’t lost a match since ever?” Jabeur told in the post-match press conference. “I think that was maybe missing the other players to believe more that they can beat her.

“She was playing unbelievable, I believe, in Miami-Indian Wells. Now she’s playing great. But she’s a human being. People should know that.

“I’m ready for the battle. I want to win tomorrow. It’s the finals. It’s not a first round or second round, it’s the final. Did I tell you how sick I am of losing finals?”

“Tomorrow for me, personally, it’s going to be about believing in myself that I can win,” she added. “I know I had a lot of matches that are played lately, back-to-back matches.

“It’s not like playing Indian Wells, Miami, you have a day off and everything. So physically it’s going to be very tough for me. I know that mental could overcome a lot of things.”

“Believing that I could play even four weeks in a row, I can do it,” Jabeur added. “I am exhausted, but it’s part of my job. It’s going to help me push push more tomorrow.

“There is only one match left. I gave it all from the first round. Now I should really continue giving my best.

“It means a lot to me, especially mentally, that I could come back from a match point, and prove that I did that today.

“Hopefully I can keep being stronger mentally, because the final is all about mental.”

As for Swiatek, she is not under-estimating Jabeur’s capabilities.

“Ons is a pretty tricky player, with all the slices and drop-shots, changing of rhythm,” Swiatek said. “I have played against her a few times, it was always hard.

“It’s going to be a nice final and she deserves to be there.”

After joking earlier in the week that she was Swiatek’s co-pilot, the amiable Tunisian said it is every woman for herself on Sunday.

“So, tomorrow, the plane will crash, and there is only one parachute,” Jabeur said. “I hope I take it.”

The women’s singles final in Rome final will take place on Sunday at 1pm local time and can be watched live on Amazon Prime Video at 12 Noon in the UK.



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