Super Swiatek beats Sabalenka to win fourth straight title

Rio Ferdinand makes admission about Man United star

Where to begin on a day that had not just a couple of finals, but four of them?

And before that, two semi-finals to determine the actual line-up of one of those finals, the Barcelona Open 500. Because for the second time in a week, all the protagonists had to play two entire matches in a single afternoon. The rain in Spain…

And just as one of those semis, featuring Spain’s newest star and newest member of the top 10, teenager Carlos Alcaraz, was saving match points against Alex de Minaur to head into a second-set tie-break, the new women’s No1, Iga Swiatek, was beginning her campaign for a fourth straight title in Stuttgart.

Swiatek, just 20 years old, was on an unbroken streak through three WTA1000s in Doha, Indian Wells and Miami, and now into a showdown with former world No2, current No4, Aryna Sabalenka, and aiming for her 23rd straight match-win.

As Swiatek settled into her final with an opening service hold, Alcaraz was blitzing the clay of Barcelona to take his semi to a third set, with the contest already two and a half hours hold: 6-7(4), 7-6(4). Meanwhile, the other Barcelona finalist, Pablo Carreno Busta, had already showered and raring to go in the locker room after taking out Diego Schwartzman in a mere hour and a half on the tournament’s second court.

Back in Stuttgart, as Barcelona paused for Alcaraz to seek some attention from the physio, Swiatek had already broken Sabalenka to love, 2-0. The Belarusian had a chance to break in the fifth game, but Swiatek held, and reasserted her control with a love hold, 5-2, and for good measure, broke again for the set, 6-2.

In the midst of all this drama, two more finals were beginning. With both Stuttgart and Barcelona finely poised, the Istanbul WTA250 title would be decided between world No29 and third seed, Veronika Kudermotova and Anastasia Potapova, ranked 93.

In stark contrast, in Belgrade, the Serbia Open would bring together the world No1 and home hero, Novak Djokovic, against world No8 and second seed, Andrey Rublev.

For Djokovic, denied participation in the Australian Open and both North American Masters events due to his Covid status, here had been the chance to get his season back on track, and in particular his preparation for the French Open. He had won consecutive three-setters en route to this final, but Rublev promised to be his biggest challenge to date.

Back to Stuttgart, and things were hotting up. Swiatek continued the pressure with an opening love hold, and then had a break chance in the second game. Sabalenka resisted, hitting with ever greater power through the court as the volume cranked up.

Remarkably, Swiatek was playing her 30th match of the season, but despite her semi-final having lasted well past three hours the previous evening in a three-set battle against Liudmila Samsonava, she was playing with passion, pace and determination.

Sabalenka, after an outstanding season in 2021 season, had won just 10 matches before Stuttgart, but back in the tournament where she was runner-up to Ash Barty last year, she had regained her form to beat the likes of Bianca Andreescu, Anett Kontaveit, and Paula Badosa. She too was hitting big, with conviction and determination.

So this, their third meeting, was becoming a very physical, very high-quality contest, but Swiatek, as so many times this year against all comers, found the edge, and the winners, to break for a 4-2 lead. She held onto her serve with a lunging backhand volley, and it looked like taking candy from a baby in the final game, as Swiatek worked 0-40 for three match points. She converted the third to seal her fourth title in a row, and roared in victory.

After the formalities, the thanks and the trophies, the biggest prize of the week was unveiled for Swiatek, a magnificent red Porsche, and she looked more nervous than at any stage in the tournament as she drove it carefully down the ramps onto court. No wonder her smile was huge, but she shook her head in disbelief at what lay before her.

At almost the same time, across Europe in Barcelona, the first game of the Barcelona decider was turning into a mini marathon all on its own—nine deuces, before a 40th winner of the match from Alcaraz notched up a 10th. A smash winner earned his fourth break chance, and he pulled off a high backhand smash to convert to rapturous applause after the 17-minute game.

The Spaniard then had to fight off a strong reply, and two break points, in yet another long exchange to hold, 2-0. But serving at 3-2, de Minaur earned three break chances, and seized the first with a stunning forehand cross-court winner.

However, Alcaraz kept finding a little more energy, pace, and sheer shot-making brilliance to run de Minaur ragged, and broke to serve for the match, 5-4. The teenager did so in style, to love, 6-4, with 50 winners to his name, after three hours 40 minutes.

The Pista Rafa Nadal crowds rose to their feet in cheers, rightly so, but it begged the question: How much would Alcaraz have left for their dream final featuring two Spaniards?

Soon after, across in Belgrade, Djokovic was doing what he had done in his other three matches. He dropped the first set, broken twice by Rublev, 6-2, but as before, he soon switched up gears to break for a 2-0 lead in the second.

However the Russian levelled again, and battled to save set points for 5-5, as Djokovic pummelled the corners and drew errors. Each had chances in the next two games, but it went to a tie-break, where Djokovic went for broke with some aggressive strikes, and maintained his initial 3-0 lead to take the set, 7-6(4).

The fans were jubilant, but after a pause while both left the court, the mood dipped with Djokovic’s energy levels, and error after error allowed Rublev to take control of things again, and ultimately break a third time for the set, 6-0, after almost two and a half hours.

There followed a crowd-pleasing award ceremony that welcomed the significant members of the Djokovic team during his ground-breaking career, with long-term former coach, Marian Vajda, the first to step up. The ceremony closed with an appearance by Niki Pilic, whose academy Djokovic attended as a 12-year-old.

It may not have been the ending at his home tournament that Djokovic hoped for, but he has certainly now got the court-time needed to prepare for the big clay events on the horizon—and following this packed Sunday, the first of them, the Madrid Masters, begins in just a few days’ time.

· In Istanbul, qualifier Potapova won her first tour title with victory over Kudermetova, 6-3, 6-1.

· In Barcelona, the final between Alcaraz and Carreno Bust was postponed until early evening.

Source: Sport Review


Author: Ellen Garcia