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Swiatek wins as Sakkari secures last semi-final spot at WTA Finals

Play in the Chichén Itzá round-robin group was completed on Monday with surprising outcomes, as Iga Swiatek picked up her first win of the week beating Paula Badosa, and Maria Sakkari battled past Aryna Sabalenka to secure the last remaining slot in the semi-finals of the Akron WTA Finals in Guadalajara, Mexico.

I'm going to fight for it, do whatever I can to advance to the final. I just really want to enjoy tomorrow's match because the atmosphere here is just unreal. I'm not going to have so much time to rest. My fitness level is, I believe, one of the best on tour, without being arrogant, but I believe fitness is one of my strengths. I'll do everything to recover. If Anett is better tomorrow, it's too good. But I'll try to recover and just take advantage of the good things I felt today on the court. Maria Sakkari

Regardless, Badosa remained at the top of the group standings, already assured of her place after her two earlier wins, while Swiatek could not qualify but earned a degree of satisfaction in avenging her loss to the Spaniard at the Tokyo Olympics.

The Pole, who is seeded 5 here, took out the 7th-seeded Spaniard, 7-5 6-4.

“I think it was a really solid match from me,” Swiatek said after her win. “I’m pretty happy that I had a chance to show my tennis finally, overcome all these factors around, just play the game.

“I really enjoyed myself today on court, which is really important for me.

“Also, I hope Paula, she’s going to have the best result here. I’m going to be cheering for sure tomorrow.

“For sure this tournament was special. Playing three days with such high-quality players, it’s hard.

“I hope my next time is going to be a little bit more lucky for me. I know in tennis you, kind of, have to wait for all of the factors around to, kind of, match, also your game to match it, so you can win the tournaments.”

Sakkari, the No 4 seed from Greece, needed almost 3 hours to upset Sabalenka, the top seed from Belarus, 7-6(1) 6-7(6) 6-3, and, as a result, she advances to a semi-final encounter with Anett Kontaveit in Tuesday’s night match.

The Greek took advantage of Sabalenka’s 19 double-faults in the longest match of the tournament, which lasted 2 hours and 47 minutes.

“I think it was a roller coaster match from both of us,” Sakkari said later. “I was up a break, then she was up a break. It was just a matter of who took the chances.

“I think at the end I just played with my heart and fought well, just turned things around.”

Paula Badosa had already qualified for the semi-finals before her loss to Iga Swiatek on Monday

© Hector Vivas/Getty Images for WTA

Swiatek needed 1 hour 39 minutes to pick up her 3rd Top 10 win of the year in a match between the two friends and frequent practice partners that had no effect on the group standings.

Badosa, who celebrated her 24th birthday on Monday, came into the match having beaten both of the highest-seeded players in Group Chichén Itzá, Sabalenka and Sakkari, in straight sets.

She was also riding an 8-match winning streak, with her Guadalajara wins preceded by a run to her biggest career title at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

The Spaniard started strongly, firing forehands to pick up an early break and lead 2-1, but solid depth on returns helped Swiatek to level at 2-2, and the contest was closely fought.

Badosa fended off a set point with a strong serve en route to a gritty hold for 5-5, but Swiatek again used outstanding returning to earn 2 more chances to break for the set at 6-5 and, on her third, the Pole slammed a forehand winner to wrap up the set.

Once more, Badosa grabbed an early break for 2-1 in the second, and this time, she did not relinquish the lead right away, saving a whopping 7 break points in the subsequent game before consolidating for 3-1.

Swiatek, the 2020 Roland Garros champion, struck back with another forehand winner to break for 4-4, and she broke again with another forehand return to collect a 4th straight game and grab the win.

While Swiatek was unable to fend off either of the 2 break points she faced in the match, she had many more chances on the Badosa serve, and converted 4 of her 13 break points.

She was also much sturdier behind her first service, winning nearly three-quarters of those points, while Badosa had only a 59 percent success rate and won just half of the points behind her second serve to boot.

While Swiatek goes home, Badosa is looking ahead to her semi-final against fellow Spaniard Muguruza on Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s an important one,” Badosa said. “For me it was already a dream to be here, so you can imagine how I feel to play the semi-finals and against her.”

Badosa won the first tour-level titles of her career this year in Belgrade and Indian Wells, and is among 6 players to have made their top-10 debut this season.

Maria Sakkari took out top seed Aryna Sabalenka to land a semi-final spot at Guadalajara

© Ulises Ruiz/AFP via Getty Images

In the night match on Monday, Sakkari claimed the final semi-final spot after winning a 3-set tussle against Sabalenka, against whom she had lost her previous 4 matches.

“I think that it was my first night match and that played a huge role in my game of how the ball really felt,” Sakkari said. “I only practiced once before the tournament at night, so it was kind of new for me.

“I don’t know, it was weird because Aryna, she’s very long, she’s very tall, it’s tough to get serves through her.

“Once I got a pattern that worked well, I just kept doing what I felt was working. I just went for it.”

Sabalenka, who was the No 1 seed in Mexico because World No 1 Ash Barty of Australia opted out of defending her WTA Finals title, kept herself in the contest despite struggling with her serve.

The top seed was broken when serving for the opening set at 5-3, and Sakkari successfully forced a tiebreak, saving a set point in her final service game.

That tiebreak was the tale of two serves, as Sakkari fired 3 aces and Sabalenka misfired 2 double-faults, the Greek racing away with it, 7-1.

It was a similar pattern in the second, after Sabalenka served for the set twice at 5-4 and 6-5, and the resilient Sakkari once again forced matters into a tiebreak but, this time, the top seed stood tall, finally sealing the set on her 4th set point to take it 8-6 to force a deciding set after over 2 hours of gruelling, physical play.

The Greek started the decider with an early break, but soon found herself behind as the World No 2 broke twice to lead 3-1, but Sakkari won the final 5 games, which included 3 breaks, to earn the win.

“Obviously last time we played was in Abu Dhabi this year,” Sakkari said. “I think my level is different today than back then. Obviously she has been having a very good season.

“I think I’m just closer to them now. My ranking shows that, my results shows that. It’s just that I’m really getting closer to them. I proved to myself and everyone that I can beat them like I did today.”

Aryna Sabalenka was undone by double-faults against Maria Sakkari and ends the WTA Finals bottom of her group

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Sabalenka’s serve was her undoing, coughing up 9 double-faults in the first two sets and another 10 in the third, bringing her match total to 19.

In fact, the Belarusian came into the WTA Finals as the tour leader in double-faults, striking 296 during the regular season, while in Guadalajara she delivered 42 across her 3 matches.

“I just couldn’t find my rhythm,” Sabalenka bemoaned. “The whole match I was really struggling with my serve.

“On some moment I found it, and on some moment I couldn’t do anything with my serve. It’s a tough match.

“Just crazy how bad I was serving in the last matches, especially this week. I guess a lot of work in the pre-season I will do.”

26-year old Sakkari started the year ranked 21 and, after reaching the semi-finals at Roland Garros and the US Open, she became the first Greek woman to qualify for the WTA’s season-ending tournament.

“Obviously my season is not finished yet, but this tournament has been very successful after today’s win,” Sakkari said. “I’m just very, very happy that I still show good emotions on court, I still play with my heart even though it’s been 11 months since we started this season.

“I’m just going to enjoy tomorrow’s match.”

Sakkari takes on Kontaveit for a place in the finals on Tuesday night.

“I told her in Moscow that I’m going to see her here,” Sakkari said. “I’m very glad that she’s here because she’s a very nice person and she deserves it.

“But it all comes down to, obviously, who plays a better match tomorrow.

“I’m going to fight for it, do whatever I can to advance to the final. I just really want to enjoy tomorrow’s match because the atmosphere here is just unreal.”

“I’m not going to have so much time to rest. My fitness level is, I believe, one of the best on tour, without being arrogant, but I believe fitness is one of my strengths.

“I’ll do everything to recover. If Anett is better tomorrow, it’s too good. But I’ll try to recover and just take advantage of the good things I felt today on the court.”



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