Stuttgart | Swiatek survives to set up Sabalenka final

World No 1 Iga Swiatek survived a 3-hour scare at the hands of Liudmila Samsonova on Saturday before sealing a 22nd consecutive win to book her place in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix final in Stuttgart, where she will meet Aryna Sabalenka, who earlier reached the final for the second year running with a straight sets win over Paula Badosa.

I have no idea how I came back. Honestly, I didn’t want to give up. I wanted to try and find solutions. I think Liudmila [Samsonova] played Top 8 tennis. We both were fighting until the last ball. I was pretty fortunate that I was able to break her at 5-5. Iga Świątek

“I honestly hate losing, and you just don’t want to give up,” the elated 20-year old said after her 6-7(4) 6-4 7-5 win. “Players like me are born to fight!”

Swiatek, who has now reached 4 finals in succession, having won the WTA 1000 titles in Doha, Indian Wells and Miami, had to come from behind to get past the persistent Samsonova and has now set her sights on the final.

“There isn’t much time to recover but, physically, I am ready, so I am just going to go for it,” Swiatek said.

After 13 straight matches without dropping a set, she finally let one go to Samsonova after taking an early 4-1 lead, but that quickly evaporated as her opponent found her range.

Samsonova saved 4 break points for a crucial 4-4 hold, and forced matters into the tiebreak where she took charge with stellar serving, quickly leading 5-2, while 2 more unreturned serves at 5-4 saw her hand Swiatek her first lost set in over a month.

“For sure it was tough, and it seemed like a marathon,” Swiatek added. “It had many ups and downs, and I had to stay focused and find solutions. … I knew that Liudmila played really great tennis, and I felt that on my racket, so all credit to her.”

Liudmila Samsonova pushed Iga Swiatek hard but could not get over the finish line in Stuttgart

© Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Getty Images

Swiatek was unable to shake Samsonova off for much of the second set but, at 4-4, a divine deep return gave the World No 1 the only break of that stanza, and she served it out to love, levelling the match.

The Pole took control of the decider at 3-1, but Samsonova reeled off 3 games in a row to claim a 4-3 lead, before Swiatek, again, came through with a late break, forcing errors to move ahead 6-5 and quickly served out the match, clinching the very tight win after a gruelling 3 hour 3 minute battle.

“I have no idea how I came back,” Swiatek said with a grin. “Honestly, I didn’t want to give up. I wanted to try and find solutions.

“I think Liudmila played Top 8 tennis. We both were fighting until the last ball. I was pretty fortunate that I was able to break her at 5-5.”

Aryna Sabalenka reached the final of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix for the second year running with a straight sets win over Paula Badosa

© Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images

On Sunday, Swiatek will take on 2021 finalist Aryna Sabalenka, who lost last year’s final to Ash Barty, and pulled off a 7-6(5) 6-4 win over Badosa, the No 2 seed from Spain, after an hour 40 minutes, in her semi-final.

“It was a tough match, and she is the toughest opponent,” said Sabalenka. “I tried to just stay in the first set and get the break back. I am super happy with the result.”

Playing her first semi-final of the year, Sabalenka was headed to a 3rd straight loss but the Spaniard failed to serve out the first set, and fell apart at the end of the second by double-faulting twice to hand the match over.

“In the beginning, I couldn’t find my rhythm, and then there was like nothing to lose,” Sabalenka said later. “She was up with a break.

“I kind of told myself in that game, ‘You have to work through it, you have to run and get everything you can, and just put her under pressure in that game.’ I did it well and I broke her back.

“That gave me a little bit more power and motivation to keep fighting for this set. And then, with every point, I played, I was feeling better and better, and I found my rhythm.”

Badosa was overwhelmed by constant big hitting from Sabalenka, who fired 33 winners, more than doubling the Spaniard’s total.

Sabalenka was also stronger returning second serves, winning 57 percent of those points to Badosa’s 45 percent success rate, and that helped the No 3 seed convert 3 of her 6 break points, and while the Spaniard had more break points with 8, she only converted 2 of those chances.

Paula Badosa let her lead slip over Aryna Sabalenka in the semi-final in Stuttgart

© Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Getty Images

Badosa took an early lead for 4-2 and Sabalenka had to stage multiple comebacks to eke out the 60-minute opening set after the No 2 seed failed to serve it out at 5-3, firing a forehand long on the 3rd break point of that game, allowing Sabalenka to pull back on serve.

Both hard-hitters fired on all cylinders in the decisive first-set tiebreak, a blistering backhand giving Badosa a 4-1 lead, but Sabalenka slammed winners from both sides to pull even at 4-4.

Then, at 5-5, Sabalenka blasted an ace, lining up the first set point for either player, and converted when Badosa misfired on her backhand.

After an early exchange of breaks in the second, at 5-4 Badosa was overtaken by errors and 2 untimely consecutive double-faults by the Spaniard gifted Sabalenka a first victory over her friend.

Sabalenka, who was already in her first semi-final since last year’s US Open, is now into her first final since last year’s Mutua Madrid Open nearly a full year ago.

She will be contesting the 16th WTA Tour singles final of her career, having won 10 titles to 5 runner-up finishes.

Badosa has the consolation that she will move up to World No 2 in the WTA rankings on Monday, while Swiatek and Sabalenka line up for the final having split their 2 prior meetings, with the Pole winning in Doha and Sabalenka taking it at the WTA Finals.

“That [Doha] match surprised me because [Swiatek] played super fast and super aggressive,” said Sabalenka. “In that match I was surprised in every point she was making.

“Now as she won three titles in a row, that’s not going to surprise me.

“I’ll be ready for this game, and I’ll be ready for a fight, and the winners she’s going to make are not going to surprise me. I think mentally that’s going to give me a little power to compete, no matter what.”

As for Swiatek, she said of Sabalenka: ”Aryna, she’s a great player, and everybody knows that.

“I have to be ready for everything, and just focus on myself, and be aggressive and be solid. We’re gonna see. I just hope it’s going to be a good match.”



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