Sydney | Team Poland sweep past France into United Cup final

The last time World No 1 Iga Swiatek dropped a set was in early October, and she did so again on Saturday in Sydney, to the same player, Caroline Garcia, in the semi-final of the United Cup when Poland met France for a place in Sunday’s final against either hosts Australia or Germany.

I'm happy that I came back and I didn't make so many mistakes as in the first set but... Caro was putting pressure as usual. So I'm happy that we're through to the final. Hubi played a great match today. He had everything under control, and it was nice watching that. For sure it [made it] a little bit easier for me. I felt, like, sometimes I was off [on] the timing. Maybe because we came from Perth. But for sure, I needed some time to adjust and I did that, so I'm happy. Iga Świątek

The 22-year old Pole mustered all her resources to survive the early scare and wrap up the tie, 3-6 6-1 6-1, after her teammate Hubert Hurkacz had beaten tricky French leftie Adrian Mannarino, 6-3 7-5, in the opening rubber.

They left it to Katarzyna Kawa & Jan Zieliński to mop up the mixed doubles, and they defeated Elixane Lechemia & Edouard Roger-Vasselin, 6-3 6-3, to give Poland the clean sweep over France, 3-0.

Poland's Hubert Hurkacz saw off the tricky Adrian Mannarino in straight sets to put Poland 1-0 up against France in the semi-final in Sydney

© David Gray/AFP via Getty Images

Hurkacz beat the crafty Mannarino, ranked 22 in the world, overcoming the Frenchman’s unusual game by being dominant on serve, with which he won 31 of 36 points when he landed his first delivery and fired 15 aces in the process.

“I think, definitely, today was a real battle,” said the 26-year-old, who is at a career-high of No 9 in the ATP Rankings, after having given Team Poland a 1-0 lead. “Adrian was playing really, really tricky shots and it’s really difficult to play against, so I was just battling for every single point and, I think, mentally, I was able to stay in the present, stay positive before each point and, I think, I was also really resilient today.”

The second set was tighter than the first but, eventually, Hukacz let rip with a forehand to break in the 11th game, before pounding through his service game to seal the win after an hour and 41 minutes.

France's Caroline Garcia snatched a set off Iga Swiatek but then could only muster 2 more games for France

© David Gray/AFP via Getty Images

Swiatek led Garcia 3-1 in their head-to-head coming into Saturday’s match, but at their last meeting at the WTA 1000 Beijing in October, the former World No 4 was 2 points away from the upset before the Pole prevailed, 6-7(8) 7-6(5) 6-1.

On this occasion, Garcia’s imposing aggression again troubled Swiatek in the early stages as she played for a 2-0 unassailable lead in the tie.

After saving 3 break points in her opening service game, the Frenchwoman’s overpowering return game led her to the only break of the set at 4-3.

Swiatek saved a set point with an ace at 5-3, but she could not prevent Garcia, now the World No 20, from serving out the set in the following game.

Garcia’s energy and extraordinary timing gained her the surprising andt vital break, and a frustrated Swiatek could not get herself back on track, and the set was gone.

The 4-time Grand Slam champion was not deterred, though, and following an off-court break and words from her coach, Tomasz Wiktorowski, she returned to stamp her authority on the rubber, fighting back to grab a break in the second game of the next act.

The tide was turned, and Garcia had no answer as the 22-year old stormed ahead to level the rubber, although she did garner one game to avoid the bagel late in the set.

Another quick break in the opening game of the decider put Swiatek firmly in control, and despite Garcia continuing to apply pressure and having break point opportunities in the second game, the Frenchwoman could not convert, and the Pole held for 2-0.

When she broke Garcia again, the air went out of the contest and she sailed to the finish line, aided by a Garcia opening double-fault as she served to stay in the match, that was followed by winners off both wings from Swiatek, who then forced a backhand error from the Frenchwoman to end proceedings.

“I felt there was a lot of tension, also the crowd was so loud that you really needed to stay focused and not think about anything else,” a delighted Swiatek said on court. “I’m happy that I came back and I didn’t make so many mistakes as in the first set but …Caro was putting pressure as usual. So I’m happy that we’re through to the final.

“Hubi played a great match today. He had everything under control, and it was nice watching that. For sure it [made it] a little bit easier for me.

“I felt, like, sometimes I was off [on] the timing. Maybe because we came from Perth. But for sure, I needed some time to adjust and I did that, so I’m happy.”

For good measure, Poland later won the mixed doubles for the final 3-0 score line.

Iga Swiatek showed off her defensive skills against Caroline Garcia and won in 3 sets

© David Gray/AFP via Getty Images

Australia plays Germany in the other semi-final later in Saturday’s night session, with the winner to face Poland in Sunday’s final, also at Sydney’s Ken Rosewall Arena.

Swiatek said she needs to make a ‘big adjustment’ after her opening-set loss to Garcia.

“I was making bad decisions and I needed to be more composed,” Swiatek said. “After the break after the first set I came back more focused, so I’m pretty proud of myself.”

Swiatek won 70% of return points in the third set as she sealed a Sunday appearance for her nation.

“Sometimes it’s a bit hard to point [to] one thing that changed [after the first set],” she said. “I just feel like I needed to calm down a little bit and not rush it, and also observe the ball a little bit more, because I felt like I was sometimes off the timing.”

Top-seeded Poland lost just one match in the group stage of the tournament in Perth before beating China 3-0 to reach the Last 4 for the second straight year.

The team has improved on its result from last year’s inaugural United Cup, when they fell in the semi-final round to eventual champions United States.

This year, Poland is seeded No 1 and has lived up to expectations by making the final.

Team Poland celebrate with Iga Swiatek on reaching the final of the United Cup on Sunday

© David Gray/AFP via Getty Images

After a dominant start in Perth, Team Poland is moving closer to its first title at the mixed-teams event, showing no apparent ill effects from travelling from Perth to Sydney.

”Definitely it’s something different that, suddenly, you play your next match completely in a different city, different timezone,” Hurkacz said. “I really like playing in Sydney, especially it was quite early because 10.30 am, with a 3-hour time difference, it’s not usual you play a big match at 7.30 am in Perth time.

“I was able to get a good night of sleep and play well today.”

Meanwhile, Swiatek is in ominous form, having not lost a match since falling to Veronika Kudermetova in the Tokyo quarter-finals in September, and subsequently winning the WTA 1000 title in Beijing and then the season-ending WTA Finals in Cancun.

Now her latest winning streak stands at 15 matches, which is the second-longest of her career.

Swiatek has been using the off-season to tweak her game with Wiktorowski, including working on some technical elements of her service action, and diversifying her repertoire of shots.

“I played two volleys in today and also one drive volley, so that’s something that wasn’t so often [seen] before,” she added proudly. “This is something that we worked on: me going forward a little bit and not always staying on the baseline.

“It’s something that we’ve been working with the coach actually since we started, but now I’m taking more shots from the air. So I’m happy that I feel like … I’m going to be a player that has a more complete game than before. So for sure it’s a step forward.”

She and Hubi will be looking to lift the trophy on Sunday, whoever they play.



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