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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Tuesday, February 20, 2024


World No. 1 Iga Swiatek broke five times topping Sloane Stephens 6-4, 6-4 to set up a Dubai rematch vs. Elina Svitolina, who upset the Pole at the 2023 Wimbledon.

Photo credit: Qatar Tennis Federation Facebook

Fireworks lit up the Dubai sky with pulsating color.

On the court below, Iga Swiatek was too busy dispensing pyrotechnic power to take much notice.

More: Delray Beach Final Photo Gallery By Matthew Calvis

Swiatek slashed timely strikes down the stretch defeating Sloane Stephens 6-4, 6-4 to reach the round of 16 at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

Empowered by her run to her third consecutive Doha championship last weekend, Swiatek elevated her game at the end of both sets against former world No. 3 Stephens.

Despite dropping to 0-11 lifetime vs. world No. 1-ranked players, Stephens played a high-quality match forcing Swiatek to work for every game she got.

The quick turnaround from Doha to Dubai combined with Stephens’ playing stretches of error-free tennis forced Swiatek to find answers with angle as well as pace. She did exactly that.

“I wouldn’t say I’m relieved because I knew after my last years’ experience that if I have to adjust quickly I can do it,” said Swiatek, who was runner-up to Barbora Krejcikova in the 2023 Dubai final. “I had that positivity in my mind. Sloane played really well. We both had many games with deuces and break points that we couldn’t convert. Because of that it was really interesting match.”

In fact, five of the last 10 games of the match were deuce games as Stephens frequently forced the powerful Pole to play one more ball.

The top-seeded Swiatek, who defeated Elena Rybakina in the Doha final last weekend, converted five of 15 break-point chances, including slamming a forehand winner down the line on match point breaking in the final game.

“I feel like I put a lot into power my shots and she uses it pretty well,” Swiatek said of Stephens. “She was kind of reading the game well as well. I [tried to] focus more on tactics rather than just hitting hard. I did that and I am happy that I’m through.”

The victory raises Swiatek’s 2024 record to 12-1 sending her into a round of 16 showdown vs. Elina Svitolina.

The 15th-seeded Svitolina swept Tatjana Maria 6-3, 6-3 and aims to beat the world No. 1 for the second time in a row.

Last July, the 28-year-old Svitolina repelled reigning Roland Garros champion Swiatek 7-5, 6-7(5), 6-2 to earn her seventh career victory over a current World No. 1. Svitolina became just the third women’s wild card to reach the semifinals at the All-England Club where she fell to eventual-champion Marketa Vondrousova. Swiatek expects another tough test against the Ukrainian.

“For sure we have a lot of respect for each other,” Swiatek said of Svitolina. “We did an event together for Ukraine, so we know each other pretty well. We played a tough match at Wimbledon but I learned a lot. I’m just going to try to learn my lesson and play a little bit better.”

In a clash of former US Open champions, Stephens was more stable at the start. Swiatek sprayed some drives trying to force the issue down the line. The top seed jerked a forehand that missed the mark as Stephens scored first-break blood for 2-1.

Stephens was up 40-15 in the following game, but Swiatek hit a flurry of heavy forehands to break back.

Tennis Express

The American was reading the Swiatek serve at the outset. At 30-all, Stephens made a fine lunging return, repelled a Swiatek approach and eventually banged a brilliant backhand winner down the line for break point. When Swiatek spit up a double fault, Stephens had her second straight break for 3-2.

Both women were returning with precision. Stephens gifted the break back with her first double fault of the day.

Setting her feet, Stephens smacked a clean crosscourt backhand winner for her third straight break and a 4-3 lead.

Exploiting a sloppy sequence from Stephens, Swiatek slashed a forehand scoring the love break—her third consecutive break—to even after eight games.

Despite dropping serve early, Swiatek locked in and was hammering the ball into the corners. A brilliamt backhand pass crosscourt gave Swiatek set point.

The world No. 1 flew through 12 of the final 14 points to take an opening set that was tight through eight games.

In a reversal from the first set, the server held strong through the start of the second set.

Serving at 2-3, Stephens fought off four break points, attacked behind a forehand and knocked off a forehand volley for game point.

A stubborn Stephens hit back everything Swiatek fired at her working through a hard-fought hold with a shout for 3-all.

Though she let a 40-love lead slip, Swiatek kept calm navigating another deuce hold for 5-4.

Fireworks erupted as Stephens served to try level. One of the longest baseline exchanges of the match ended with Stephens framing a forehand to face match point.

Swiatek slammed a forehand winner down the line to end an entertaining and tough one hour, 57-minute victory.


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