Rome | Sublime Swiatek sweeps Sabalenka aside for 3rd Italian title

Iga Swiatek laid down an emphatic marker ahead of her French Open title defence by convincingly beating Aryna Sabalenka in straight sets in the Internazionali BNL d’Italia final on Saturday.

After Madrid, I knew it would not be easy. It can always go both ways. Thank you [Sabalenka] for sharing the court with me, and pushing me to be better. Iga Świątek

In front of a packed crowd at the Foro Italico in Rome, the World No 1 took out the World No 2 in an hour and 29 minutes, 6-2 6-3.

Many thought that Sabalenka might avenge her very narrow defeat at the hands of the 22-year old Pole in Madrid a couple of weeks ago, but Swiatek was having none of that, stamping her authority from the outset as the undisputed Queen of Clay.

“For sure this match looked a little bit differently than in Madrid,” Swiatek said. “I felt, like, I’m putting a lot of pressure. I just continued doing that throughout the whole match. Really proud of myself and really happy.”

Swiatek, who turns 23 at the end of May, is now the 5th player to have won the Madrid-Rome, the so-called ‘Dirtball Double’, man or woman, and follows in the footsteps of 4 fellow World No 1s – Serena Williams (2013), Novak Djokovic (2011), Rafael Nadal (2010 and 2013), and Dinara Safina (2009).

She is also only the second woman to win 3 or more Internazionali BNL d’Italia titles before the age of 23 in the Open Era since 1969, alongside Gabriela Sabatini, who won 4 Rome titles before her 22nd birthday.


Iga Swiatek ruthlessly dominated Aryna Sabalenka in the trophy match at the Foro Italico in Rome

© Dan Istitene/Getty Images

The repeat of the Madrid final, though, was not the thriller that the two played in the Spanish capital, which could have gone either way and was determined by a nail-biting match tiebreak.

On this occasion, Swiatek had an answer for everything that Sabalenka could think of throwing at her, but the Belarusian’s power could not dent the Pole’s defence, and the World No 1 quickly turned any opportunity into a full scale attack.

This is Swiatek’s 3rd title in the Italian capital following her successes in 2021 and 2022, and her 21st career title, but, ahead of the match, she insisted that she is not focusing on making records.

“I’m not really thinking about the statistics or history, and it’s easier that way because it makes you play more relaxed and freely,” she said. “I’m going to play the best tennis I can in the final and, if I take it easy, step by step, then it’ll be better than thinking about winning.”


Aryna Sabalenka's power game could not dent Iga Swiatek's defences in Saturday's final

© Dan Istitene/Getty Images

In Saturday’s final, strong depth on return gave Swiatek an early lead, breaking to love for 2-1.

She basically was the steadier of the two as she eased her way to a one-set advantage, breaking Sabalenka twice in a first set in which the Belarusian conceded 12 unforced errors in a lopsided start to the match..

Sabalenka took a comfort break to regroup, and came out firing in the second, hoping to emulate her stunning come-back in Madrid, but it was not to be.

The No 2 seed struck more winners in the first 2 games than she had done in the entire first set, 5 in fact, and was rewarded with her first break points of the day, with 5 chances to gain an early 2-0 lead, but Swiatek is this year’s tour leader in break points saved, and she demonstrated that skill once again.

The Pole found strong serves to erase all of them before gritting out a crucial hold for 1-1, keeping the Belarusian at bay.

She also saved 2 more break points in her next service game, which proved to be the last of any peril she faced on her delivery.

Swiatek took the lead for good at 4-3 after a netted backhand by Sabalenka ceded the first break of the second set, and the World No 1 broke one more time for good measure to wrap up her latest WTA 1000 clay-court title, having ended the final 7-for-7 on break points saved.

The win extended Swiatek’s unbeaten run to 12 matches on clay, sending out a dire warning to her rivals ahead of this month’s French Open, where she is a 3-time winner and the defending champion.

“After Madrid, I knew it would not be easy. It can always go both ways,” Swiatek said. “Thank you [Sabalenka] for sharing the court with me, and pushing me to be better.”

This was her 8th win over Sabalenka in their 11 meetings, and she has now triumphed in Rome in 3 of the last 4 years, also taking the WTA 1000 title in 2021 and 2022, only missing out on 2023 because of injury.

“I, kind of, knew that, if I’m going to work hard, and if I’m going to be in the right mindset, this is achievable,” Swiatek said afterwards. “I’m happy I was so focused and disciplined throughout the tournament to do that.”


Iga Swiatek has now won 8 of her 11 matches against Aryna Sabalenka

© Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Swiatek has now won her last 8 singles finals, and the last time the Pole lost in a final was to Sabalenka at Madrid last year, which is also the only time the Belarusian has defeated her in the 5 times they have met in finals on clay.

If all goes well for Sabalenka at the French Open, she should be staring down the 3-time champion again.

“Congrats on an incredible couple of weeks in Rome,” Sabalenka said during the trophy ceremony. “Great stuff, great tennis. I love this tournament… I’ll come back stronger next year and hopefully win the trophy.

“I hope we’re going to make it to the final of Roland Garros and I’ll get you there,” Sabalenka directed to Swiatek, laughing.

Later, the Pole quipped in her trophy speech: “We’ll see about that Roland Garros final.”


Unlike in Madrid, the women's final in Rome was played in front of a capacity crowd at Foro Italico

© Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Swiatek has been in sublime form at this season’s European clay court swing, reaching the semi-finals in Stuttgart and winning in Madrid before going on a rampage from the get-go in Rome, and winning the title without dropping a single set.

She defeated the likes of Angelique Kerber, Madison Keys, and Coco Gauff before beating Sabalenka to lift the trophy for a 3rd time.

When asked how she felt about her chances of winning a 4th title at the French Open this year, Swiatek said “Oh umm… I’m gonna repeat myself, I’m going to be boring. You know, you have to do everything step by step.

“Of course, there are seven matches there, so it’s not easy to win a Grand Slam. The pressure is different, and the intensity of this tournament, overall of the court as well,” the Pole said in her post-match press conference.

First, though, the World No 1 plans to take some time off to ‘recharge her batteries’ before heading to Paris.

“So I’ll just, you know, really enjoy my time off right now because it’s been a long time since I had a week off,” she said. “So I’ll do that, and not think about next goals and, for sure, when I’m going to be coming to Paris, I’ll start thinking about it slowly, but you need to really charge your batteries first.

“For sure, recovery is important and necessary before a Grand Slam. Yeah, I’ll not travel tomorrow because I have also my friends here, so I want to stay here a bit longer. Then we’ll go to Paris. I have also some appointments there to do. It’s not like I’m going to have full time off.

“I guess we’ll start practicing in the middle of next week.”


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