CANCUN, Mexico (AP) — Iga Swiatek gave herself a shot at her first WTA Finals title and the year-end top ranking by eliminating No. 1 Aryna Sabalenka 6-3, 6-2 in a rain-suspended semifinal Sunday.
The second-seeded Swiatek, a 22-year-old from Poland, will meet the fifth-seeded Jessica Pegula, a 29-year-old from the United States, on Monday for the trophy at the tour’s season-ending championship. Both players went undefeated during round-robin play and have claimed all eight sets they’ve played on the outdoor hard court in Cancun.
“I feel like it’s still a long way,” Swiatek said, “because tomorrow’s match should be like the toughest one.”
The final was supposed to be held Sunday, but a series of showers throughout the week continued Saturday, when Pegula defeated Coco Gauff in the first semifinal. The second semifinal, Swiatek vs. Sabalenka, was stopped in the fourth game.
Sabalenka surely spoke for everyone involved in the event when she said: “First big question is: What are we doing here in the middle of the hurricane season?”
When they resumed Sunday, Swiatek quickly broke, then moved out to a 4-1 lead and never really looked back.
“I definitely want to give credit to Iga. She adjusted really well in these conditions. And on this court, she was definitely way, way better than me,” Sabalenka said. “She just started putting so much pressure on me.”
Swiatek consistently out-hit the powerful Sabalenka, the runner-up at last year’s WTA Finals, from the baseline and wound up with more winners, 16-13, while also making fewer than half as many unforced errors, 23-10.
Swiatek, a four-time Grand Slam champion, also saved both break points she faced and won three of Sabalenka’s service games.
Sabalenka, who won the Australian Open in January for her first major title, could have guaranteed herself remaining at No. 1 by beating Swiatek. Instead, a victory over Pegula would allow Swiatek to rise from No. 2 to regain the top spot she held from April 2022 to this September, when Sabalenka overtook her.
Swiatek carries a 10-match winning streak into Monday; Pegula has won nine in a row.
And they’ve been dominating their opponents at a tournament for the top eight women in tennis: Swiatek has ceded only 19 games so far — the fewest en route to the final at the WTA Finals since Justine Henin dropped the same number in 2007 — and Pegula just 22.
“Overall, I feel like me and Jessie, we played really in a smart way, and we’ve really kept calm. We’re pretty focused and just taking the most we can from these matches and conditions,” said Swiatek, who is 5-3 head-to-head against Pegula. “So I truly think that we kind of both deserve to be in a final.”
AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis