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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Saturday, May 18, 2024


World No. 1 Iga Swiatek swept Aryna Sabalenka 6-2, 6-3, to score her 12th straight win, ninth consecutive finals triumph and her third Rome crown.

Photo credit: Mike Hewitt/Getty

Dancing behind the baseline, fierce front-runner Iga Swiatek streaked through the finish line.

In a clash of the world’s top two, Swiatek saved all seven break points she faced dusting Aryna Sabalenka 6-2, 6-3 to capture her third Rome championship without surrendering a set—and hit her way into history.

More: Break Ups & Love Matches

“Another final, another great battle,” Swiatek said to Sabalenka afterward. “It can always go both ways. Thanks for sharing the court for me and really pushing me to get better. We’ll see about that Roland Garros final.”

World No. 1 Swiatek scored her 12th consecutive victory, winning her ninth straight final to capture her 21st career championship.

Ten of those 21 titles have come at WTA 1000 events as Swiatek has now won three different tournament titles—Roland Garros, Rome and Doha—three times.

The 22-year-old Pole is the third woman to sweep Madrid and Rome championships in succession. Swiatek joins Dinara Safina in 2009 and Serena Williams in 2013 in achieving the rare Rome-Madrid double.

Three keys to Swiatek’s superior performance in today’s final:

Spin Master—Swiatek mixed spins masterfully and played with more net clearance on pivotal points.

Second serve to the body—Swiatek served only 54 percent, but won 16 of 26 second-serve points and saved all seven break points often stinging the second serve into the hip.

First-rate forehand—At critical stages, Swiatek won the forehand-to-forehand exchanges and frequently played her backhand down the line into the Belarusian’s forehand wing. Sabalenka committed 28 errors— 17 more than Swiatek—as she tried to red-line the forehand.

It all added up to Swiatek’s second straight finals win over Sabalenka as she beat the Belarusian for the eighth time in 11 meetings widening the gap between her and the rest of the pack.

“Congrats on an incredible couple of weeks here in Rome, great stuff, great tennis,” Sabalenka told Swiatek during the trophy presentation. “I hope we’re gonna make it to the finals at Roland Garros and I’m gonna get you there.

“Just kidding—just trying to do better than today.”

This final was a rematch of the Mutua Madrid Open final.

Two weeks ago, Swiatek saved three championship points dethroning defending champion 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.

Riding a streak of eight straight finals wins, Swiatek came out attacking the Sabalenka forehand.

While you have to credit Sabalenka for attacking her shots and try to shorten rallies, she just wasn't as sharp today as she was two weeks ago. Additionally, the higher altitude of Madrid added some hop to Sabalenka's baseline blasts whereas Rome's red clay is slower creating tougher terrain for the Belarusian to blast through against the speedy Swiatek.

Too often today, Sabalenka tried strong-arming shots finding the net instead. 

"It wasn't the final I really expected. Didn't play my best at all," Sabalenka told the media in Rome. "Anyway, I'm going to be positive after these couple of weeks. I went through so many things during these weeks.

"I'm proud that I was able to, no matter what, stay there, to keep winning, to keep fighting my way to the final. Even though it didn't go my way, I'm still happy with the result here in Rome."

The top seed tore through eight of nine points poking through a love break for 2-1.

When Swiatek went up 30-0 in the next game, a frustrated Sabalenka spiked her Wilson Blade to the clay, cracking the stick. Swiatek held firm for 3-1.

The depth and weight of Swiatek’s twisting topspin forehand sometimes pushed the Belarusian behind the baseline causing netted replies. Swiatek played a series of heavy forehands into opposite corners drawing a forehand into net to break again for 5-2.

The reigning Roland Garros champion served out the first set at 15. Despite serving just 39 percent, Swiatek won eight of nine first-serve points and did not face a break point in the 36-minute opening set.

Two games into the second set, Swiatek saved three break points, belting backhands down the line on two of the three. Sabalenka swatted a drive backhand down the line for a fourth break point, but pasted a forehand into the middle of the net.

Swiatek continued playing her backhand down the line into the Sabalenka forehand side as she fought off five break points for a stirring 10-minute hold to level after two games.

Though the Pole was still serving below 50 percent, she jammed several stinging second serves into the body. Swiatek saved two more break points—by then she erased all seven break points she faces—holding for 2-all.

Afterward, Sabalenka, who was battling a cranky back that perhaps compelled her to pull the trigger too quickly at times, said her inability to break was key to the outcome.

"I would say the first set I didn't play well at all," Sabalenka said. "I wasn't - I don't know - feeling my game well. In the second set I just tried to stay a little bit more aggressive. Maybe I tried to go through her backhand so she doesn't have the forehand too much. I just tried to put her a little bit under pressure.

"I had couple of opportunities to break her serve. Probably if I would take that opportunity, the match would goes differently. I didn't use it, so it is how it is."

Crushing her drives with even more commitment, Sabalenka over-hit a forehand to face double break point in the seventh game.

On the second break point, Sabalenka couldn’t clear net with a backhand as Swiatek broke for 4-3.

Racing up quickly to a short ball, Swiatek swatted a clean backhand strike down the line confirming the break with the first love hold of the set for 5-3.

When Sabalenka swept a forehand beyond the baseline, Swiatek had championship points after only 87 minutes of play.

The second seed scalded a forehand down the line to save championship point only to sail another forehand to face a second championship point.

Embed from Getty Images

Swiatek closed on Sabalenka’s final error, flung her Tecnifibre racquet aside and bounced up and down across the red clay with her third Rome championship in one hour, 29 minutes.


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