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Sabalenka ends Swiatek’s dream season at WTA Finals, setting final with Garcia

Aryna Sabelenka powered past the world No 1 to reach the title match at the WTA Finals, where France’s Caroline Garcia will be waiting.

Aryna Sabalenka, 2022 Aryna Sabalenka, 2022, WT Finals (| © AP Photo/LM Otero/SIPA)

Two months ago at the US Open, Aryna Sabalenka squandered a 4-2 lead to Iga Swiatek in the semi-finals, losing 16 of the final 20 points. Her reaction at the time was prophetic: “I’m trying to think that everything happens for a reason, and I guess it just makes me really stronger,” she said. “I guess, in the next semifinal, I will be much stronger as a player.”

Two months later Sabalenka punched a hole in Swiatek’s forehand and used her chances down the stretch as she coasted to a 6-2, 2-6, 6-1 triumph and a spot in the biggest final of her career.

She will face France’s Caroline Garcia for the title on Monday in Fort Worth.

Sabalenka has become just the third player this century to beat each of the tour’s top three players by ranking in a single tournament. She defeated No 2-ranked Ons Jabeur and No 3-ranked Jessica Pegula before notching her third career victory over a reigning world No 1 against Swiatek.

Keeping calm and firing away

After Sabalenka stormed through the opener, Swiatek hit back hard to level the match at a set apiece. The Belarusian said her game plan was not complicated in the final set.

“I just said that I have to stay aggressive and I have to stay in the moment,” she said. “And that’s it.

“I think this kind of mentality really helped me tonight because the only thing I had in my mind was just to make her work and that’s it, and I think only because of that was able to show unbelievable tennis tonight and actually get this win.”

Sabalenka smacked 12 aces and saved six of ten break points on the night. She didn’t face a single break point in the final set.

“I wasn’t really thinking about aces, I was just picking the target and I was just going for it,” she said. “I think only because of that I was able to serve so many aces; it was an unbelievable serving day for me.”

Learning from a difficult loss at the US Open

After the match Sabalenka said that she briefly reflected on her loss to Swiatek in New York, which was her fourth consecutive loss to the Pole in 2022.

“I had this little flashback,” she said, before adding:

“After that match, I spoke with my team and they said ‘What you would do differently?’ And I said ‘I would just go body serves and I would just relax and not try to go for aces, just pick the target and go for it’ – this is the mindset I had.”

Bidding for 11th – and biggest – career title vs Garcia

Sabalenka and Garcia have split four previous meetings with Garcia winning their most recent meeting in the semi-finals at Cincinnati this year (6-2, 4-6, 6-1).

The 24-year-old hopes to play a punishing ground game on Monday, and she’s expecting the same from her opponent.

“I think she’s a different player right now she has more confidence in her game and it’s going to be a different match,” she said. “I expect a lot of good serves, a lot of good winners and again, I will go with the same mindset – I’ll make her work for it.”

Swiatek’s incredible 2022 comes to a close

Sabalenka’s triumph snaps Swiatek’s torrid run of 15 consecutive victories against the top-10 and ends her remarkable 2022 campaign at 67 wins and nine losses. Swiatek ran the table for most of the 2022 season and will end the season at the top of the rankings after winning two major titles and eight titles overall.

She compiled a 37-match winning streak and racked up four 1000-level titles.

At Roland-Garros she was ruthless as she became the youngest woman since Maria Sharapova in 2006 to win multiple majors and the first woman since Justine Henin in 2004 to win the first major she played after reaching No. 1 in the WTA rankings.

Though Swiatek carried the much better three-set record in 2022 (16-4, compared to 14-13 for Sabalenka), it was the Belarusian who delivered the goods in the final set as she waltzed to victory, winning 16 of 28 return points and sauntering away with the final five games.

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