Aryna Sabalenka has claimed some bragging rights over World No.1 Iga Swiatek, defeating the Polish superstar in the final of the Madrid Open. The showdown between the two top ranked women's players loomed as a crucial litmus test ahead of the upcoming French Open, with Sabalenka able to get a confidence boosting 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 for her second title at the event.
The Belarusian star had never managed to take a set off Swiatek in three prior meetings on clay, but was able to put those demons to bed in what was the first time the World No.1 and 2 faced off in a WTA 1000 final since Serena Williams and Li Na at the 2014 Miami Open. Remarkably, the final between the pair was just the third time in the last 40 years that the two top ranked women's players had faced off more than once on a clay court in the same season.
Sabalenka had been beaten by Swiatek two weeks prior on grass, in the final of the Stuttgart Open in Germany. However she ensured there would be no repeat of that result, claiming a tour-leading third title for 2023.
Women's tennis has been crying out for a rivalry at the top of the game and this is shaping up to be a good one. They are contrasting players with very different personalities - Belarusian Sabalenka bubbly and ultra-aggressive on court, while Poland's Swiatek is a self-declared introvert who uses her supreme athleticism to dominate.
"I am just super happy with this win, especially against Iga on clay," Sabalenka said. "Women's tennis needs this kind of consistency, to see the world No.1 and world No.2 facing (off) in the finals.
"That's something amazing, and hopefully we can keep doing what we are doing this season. It is always tough against each other and you (Swiatek) always push me to my limits. I hope we will play many more times this season."
Swiatek was quick to congratulate her opponent but took a potshot at the scheduling Madrid Open, after four of her six matches finished past 1am local time. Tournament director Feliciano Lopez was standing right behind Swiatek when she made the comment, with fans pointing out that he clearly looked unhappy.
“It’s not fun to play at 1am though,” she said. “I’m happy anyway I was able to get past this experience and survive and be in the final.”
Iga Swiatek finished two of her six matches at the Madrid Open after midnight.
Iga hinted at an awful scheduling during the trophy ceremony, saying, “it’s not fun to play at 1 am.”
Madrid Open director Feliciano Lopez’s face says it all: pic.twitter.com/gV56lQxYHb
— Yura 🎾 (@hilshanskyi) May 6, 2023
— m0n1c23k (@m0n1c23k) May 6, 2023
"It's not fun to play at 1 a.m. though." Pause. "So I was happy I was able to survive that".
Going over ... like you might expect. pic.twitter.com/Scxzu4KX9S
— Stephanie Myles (@OpenCourt) May 6, 2023
Sabalenka avenges Stuttgart defeat with Madrid Open triumph
Sabalenka was desperate to get revenge over Swiatek and she learned the lessons from Stuttgart with a controlled but relentlessly offensive first set. The Belarusian looked frustrated after failing to take two break points at 3-2 but did not allow her head to drop and made the breakthrough to lead 5-3 before clinching her first set on clay against the Pole.
Swiatek responded impressively, opening up a 3-0 lead in the second set, but back came Sabalenka to level with some tremendous power tennis. However, Swiatek dug in and reeled off another three games in a row to level proceedings at the Caja Magica.
Both knew how important the start of the decider was and, with the intensity levels increasing still further, Sabalenka produced some of her best tennis of the match to move 3-0 in front. Swiatek rallied again as she looked to maintain her proud record in finals - she had won 14 of her previous 16 - but, having levelled at 3-3, she was helpless as Sabalenka broke once more to lead 5-3 before overcoming her nerves to clinch her fourth match point.
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