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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Saturday May 4, 2024

Swiatek and Sabalenka

What a final it was! Iga Swiatek's 10th meeting with Aryna Sabalenka lived up to the hype and then some in Madrid on Saturday.

Photo Source: Getty

Iga Swiatek saved three championship points and defeated Aryna Sabalenka 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(7) to win the Madrid title on Saturday, the Polish juggernaut wrapping up her 20th WTA title, her ninth 1000-level crown and improving to 20-4 lifetime in WTA finals.

Tennis Express

It was a compelling and memorable clash on many levels, one that should be a contender for the WTA’s match of 2024 when all is said and done.

Here are five reasons why Swiatek v Sabalenka, episode 10 gets full marks...

The tennis matched the hype

On paper, we couldn’t have wished for a better matchup. The WTA’s No.1 and No.2-ranked players, and a rematch of last year’s three-set title match at the Magic Box. Matchups like that often have trouble living up to the hype come championship weekend. Not this one.

Swiatek and Sabalenka dialed up the intensity, the focus, the attack and the drama on Saturday in a hotly contested roller coaster ride that featured brave shotmaking and puzzling levels of precision and power. There were also incessant ebbs and flows that kept the tension and entertainment value high throughout the three sets.

The Drama!

Every set hit an elevated level of drama, with the outcome in doubt from start to finish in all three stanzas. But it was the deciding set that knocked this thriller off the hook. After a trade of breaks in the fifth and sixth games of set three, it was Sabalenka who looked to be chiseling her way to the title. She earned her first championship point with Swiatek serving at 5-6, 30-40, then procured another six points later, at ad-out.

Sabalenka failed to hit her forehand with enough conviction on the first, and it drifted just a smidgen wide. On the second championship point, Swiatek was flawless, executing a serve-plus-one to perfection as she rifled home a bold winner to force a fourth deuce in the game.

Two points later, a Swiatek hold now in the books, the tiebreak commenced…

We were just getting started... A few more twists and turns took us to Swiatek’s first championship point – well-handled by Sabalenka, who sent an ace flying down the T – and a third for the Belarusian, which saw Swiatek prevail in a five-stroke rally that started with a firm body serve.

Numbing tension by this point finally appeared to take its toll on Sabalenka, and it was Swiatek who finished strong, drawing a forehand error with a body serve to earn a fourth championship point.

Sabalenka’s backhand sailed long on the next point and it was Swiatek to glory, by the thinnest of margins.

Across-the-board shotmaking

The level of aggression and execution from both Swiatek and Sabalenka was carried out with a casual air in this match. Both players recognized from the start that they needed to dictate terms, and do so with aplomb, to have a chance. 

Unwilling to let the other decide their fate, points were pursued with gusto by both. There was so much clarity in the tactics, and an impressive willingness to step up and own the rallies when the slightest opportunity was presented. There was exorbitant firepower being wielded in the quest for control, yet the tennis was streamlined and impressively tidy.

Both players had adequate time and space to employ their wizardry and showcase their strongest tennis.

Additionally, contrasting styles became evident during the tussle: the shape of Swiatek’s rounder, more-angled strokes and the blinding quickness of Sabalenka’s flatter, bolder strokes. Beautiful to see…

Mental toughness clinic

There was a palpable level of focus in this final. A serious air – the silent assassin thing – that played a paramount role in elevating the overall level of play. The focus factor carried the two through the most harrowing moments of a mentally and physically straining three hour and 11-minute contest, and somehow both players were able to navigate the entirety of the contest without mental lapses.

Swiatek proved superior in the end, as Sabalenka’s patience wore a bit thin in the tiebreak -- only at the very last minute, when faced with an opponent that clearly was in refuse-to-lose mode, did she wilt.

The implications

With Rome looming next week, and just three weeks between today’s final and first ball at Roland-Garros 2024, Saturday’s final was the perfect litmus test for what’s to come on the clay.

Viewers could take multiple perspectives. They could observe the clash as a standalone; a colossal quest for power in Madrid, where two-time champion Sabalenka was bidding for an historic third title and World No.1 Swiatek was trying to carve her name into the event’s heady honor roll.

Historians could watch in delight as the Pole's legacy loomed large, the resident queen of clay questing to prove that she could go toe-to-toe with one of the hardest-hitting forces in the game on a fast-playing court in Madrid. Could she expand her clay-court empire, or would rising force Sabalenka turn the tide?

Viewers could also take the long view and focus on the importance of the match in terms of tone-setting for the rest of the spring. With a win, Swiatek could assert her dominance on clay – at any altitude – and push Sabalenka into more doubt ahead of the next two events. Swiatek could force the Belarusian to wonder: if I can’t beat her here, where I’ve set up shop and dominated, going 17-3 lifetime and reeling off 11 straight wins, how will I do it at Roland-Garros, where Iga is a three-time champion that thrives in slower-playing conditions?

On the flipside, if Sabalenka had won, she could have placed a bit more doubt in Swiatek’s head. It would have marked two consecutive victories over the Pole in the Madrid final. It might have made Swiatek feel that her rival was getting closer to her on clay, and may have introduced a bit more anxiety in her mind overall.

Now that it’s over we get to bask in the glory of what just happened and what is yet to come. Sabalenka lost the battle, but by performing so valiantly she may have given herself more confidence that the war can be won. Swiatek is not as free and clear on clay as many might think. Her rivals want a piece of what she has, and she’s aware of it, and it only seems to elevate her game that much more.



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