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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Saturday, May 4, 2024


No. 1 Iga Swiatek saved three championship points edging No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(7), to win her 20th career title in a Madrid classic.

Photo credit: Julian Finney/Getty

The sequel was a shot-making spectacle.

Squaring off in a Madrid final rematch, the world’s top two delivered dizzying drama in the Magic Box.

More: Rublev Rolls Fritz for 25th Final in Madrid

Standing her ground, Iga Swiatek showed supreme closing skills and pure guts prevailing in a classic.

World No. 1 Swiatek saved three championship points dethroning defending champion Aryna Sabalenka 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(7) in a pulsating three hour, 11-minute Mutua Madrid Open final that will go down as a clay classic.

On her second championship point, Swiatek spun a deep return, drew one final error and fell flat on her back absorbing a wild win.

"For sure I'm really proud of myself and really happy," Swiatek said. "Because when you, you know, have matches like that and when you actually have to fight through some stuff, it makes it even better. So I'm really proud of myself."

As Sabalenka slumped in her court-side seat and buried her face in her towel in deep disappointment, a smiling Swiatek arose, sprinted to her support box hugging each member of her team after improving to 30-4 with her third title of 2024.

This was a physically-demanding duel that saw the Grand Slam champions take turns ratcheting up the pressure—repeatedly forcing each other to lift their level amid the high elevation of Madrid and the high anxiety at play.

“Aryna too many finals—always a challenge playing against you,” Swiatek said. “So thanks for motivating me and forcing me to be a better player. “

It was Swiatek’s eighth straight finals win—the last final she lost was to Sabalenka in Madrid on May 6, 2023—and her 20th career title. Nine of Swiatek's 20 titles are WTA 1000 championships and four are Grand Slam crowns.

The 22-year-old Swiatek is the youngest woman to collect 20 career championships since former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki did it back in 2012.

The second-ranked Sabalenka was bidding to join Petra Kvitova as the second woman to win three Madrid championships. Sabalenka very nearly pulled it off too, but Swiatek spoiled the celebration the day before the Belarusian celebrates her 26th birthday.

"I think it's tougher, especially remembering all your thoughts on all your match points and the way you played," Sabalenka told the media in Madrid. "It was just, like, too close. I think it's tougher.

"But for me, you know, I'm going to suffer for a day, and tomorrow I'm leaving to Rome, so I'm going to forget it quickly. It's my birthday tomorrow. I hope I'm going to be in a good mood.

"Anyway, I'm going to be in a good mood. I am 26 tomorrow. It sucks."

A couple of months after Sabalenka suffered the tragic death of her ex-boyfriend in Miami, she showed champion’s spirit attacking her shots. Sabalenka earned two championship points on Swiatek’s serve at 5-6 and a third championship point at 7-6 in the tiebreaker.

Facing the fire from the champion, Swiatek did not flinch. Sabalenka said last week, she prefers watching men’s tennis to women’s tennis. A review of this blockbuster may well modify her viewing habits.

“Last months have been kind of like intense for me; seems like I haven’t been onstage forever,” Sabalenka told Madrid fans. “Thank you so much for the atmosphere, you guys make this place very special for me.

“I enjoy playing in front of you all and I just tried to make this match as long as possible to make this match as long as I can. Congrats Iga on another great tournament for you and hopefully next year it goes to me. Great match, three hours, that’s a long one, hopefully we’ll recover fast for the next tournament. Wish us luck guys.”

In their 2023 Madrid final, Sabalenka ran through the final three games stopping Swiatek 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 to capture her second Mutua Madrid Open crown in the past three years.

Today, Sabalenka put herself in position to do it again.

On her first championship point, Sabalenka tried squeezing a forehand down the line—a shot she hit well all match long—but missed it well wide. Swiatek swept a forehand winner crosscourt to save championship point No. 2, eventually forcing the tiebreaker.

World No. 1 vs. World No. 2 exceeded expectations and showcased two champions who may well meet again in Paris.

​​"I'm super proud of myself, that I was able to take myself out of such a tough situation and be able to fight again and be able to show my best tennis," Sabalenka told the media in Madrid. "I'm super proud of myself, proud of my team that no matter what, we stay together, we fight for the same dream. Even though it was really close, tight match, it went to Iga's side, anyway, I'm happy with the level I played, with the effort I put into this match and into this week.

"Yeah, it's a lot of good things to take out of this tournament, and I think I'm leaving Madrid with positive thoughts."

Altitude in Madrid can create confounding bounces and tactical tests, but both women took turns amping up aggression today.

This 10th clash between the Slam champions marked the first time two foes faced off in back-to-back Madrid finals since Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal played successive finals in 2009 and 2010.

The top-seeded Swiatek surrendered just 20 games in five tournament wins, dishing out bagels or breadsticks in seven of the 11 sets she played.

Fast starts helped Swiatek post an 8-2 record in WTA 1000 finals and she burst out of the blocks quickly in today’s rematch.

Exploiting a cluster of Sabalenka forehand errors, Swiatek scalded a forehand return crosscourt breaking in the opening game.

The second-seeded Sabalenka, who beat world No. 1 champions in both her prior Madrid finals—Ash Barty in 2021 and Swiatek last May—pounded the Pole’s forehand to break right back.

A slick running forehand strike down the line and a second-serve ace helped Sabalenka work through a deuce hold in the third game.

At the outset, Sabalenka was smacking her forehand bigger, but Swiatek was find the angles with her topspin replies. Swiatek fended off three break points, drawing errors, to level after six games.

The longest rally of the set ended with a Sabalenka drive tripping off the tape and falling wide. Sabalenka missed a running backhand to face double break point.

In a testament to Sabalenka’s timing and jolting power, she slammed successive forehand winners off the back foot to deny both break points. Sabalenka soothed stress sliding a backhand down the line for 4-3.

Challenged in the following game, Swiatek curled an ace down the T to even after eight games.

Swiatek surged through six straight points, applying pressure in the 11th game. Flipping a forehand return down the line earned the Pole two break points.

On her second break point, Swiatek spun a backhand return down the line breaking for 6-5.

Slashing an ace wide brought Swiatek set point. Quick off the mark, Swiatek sped up to a net-cord short ball and spun a forehand winner snatching a one-set lead punching her fist in the air.

The 22-year-old Pole saved three of four break points in the hour-long opener. Swiatek defended her second serve better and hit three more winners—14 to 11—in the opening set.

A fierce front-runner, Swiatek had won 144 of her last 148 matches when taking the first set.

Driving through the ball with authority, the defending champion stamped a love hold then bolted a backhand winner to break for a 2-0 second-set lead.

Hitting returns down the line effectively, Swiatek broke right back in the third game.

The rare skill of timing her slide into the strike helped Swiatek hang tough as Sabalenka tried to thrush her forehand wing at times. Swiatek struck some fine running drives holding firm for 4-all.

Amping up the pace of her drives, Sabalenka bolted a backhand for a set point. Displacing Swiatek with flat drives, Sabalenka stepped in and slammed a forehand down the line breaking to take the second set.

Drama and dynamic shot making escalated as the third set progressed. Sabalenka saved two break points, bolting an 80 mph backhand bolt down the line to deny the second, and held for 2-1.

Despite the fact she’d spent more than 12 hours on court at that point, Sabalenka was energized and assertive.

Controlling the center of the court, Sabalenka again attacked the Roland Garros champion’s forehand. Drawing the mid-court ball, Sablanka slammed a diagonal forehand winner breaking for a 3-1 lead in the decider.

Knowing she needed to elevate, Swiatek was making her forehand dance off the high-bounding dirt as she broke back in the fifth game then held for 3-all.

Serving at 4-all, Sabalenka narrowly missed the forehand down the line she’d made so many times in this match to fall into a love-30 hole.

Showing serious guts, Sabalenka swept a second-serve ace out wide for game point. The Belarusian belted a backhand winner down the line, holding with a clenched fist, 5-4.

When the world No. 1 served to force the final tiebreaker, she tightened up a bit missing a backhand down the line. Sabalenka pounced, pounding a backhand strike down the line for championship point.

The world No. 2 tried to go behind Swiatek with a running forehand, but her momentum carried it wide. Swiatek saved championship point and held game point, but double faulted.

Credit Sabalenka for continuing to take her cracks even under the most severe pressure.

A running Sabalenka shot a forehand that cleaned the baseline for a second championship point.

Undaunted, Swiatek swept a forehand winner crosscourt to save championship point No. 2. When Sabalenka slapped a backhand into the tape this epic drama spiked into the third-set tiebreaker.

It was the first final-set tiebreaker in a final for both women and it came after three hours of high-quality play.

Coaxing a backhand return error, Sabalenka went up 5-4 in the tiebreaker. Swiatek responded by drawing an errant forehand to earn her first championship point at 6-5.

Reaching back, Sabalenka slashed her fourth ace to save it. Swiatek sprayed a diagonal forehand and Sabalenka had a third championship point only to send a backhand long.

Embed from Getty Images

A biting body serve gave Swiatek her second championship point and when Sabalenka couldn’t control the Pole’s deep return, a manic, magical Madrid final came to a close.


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