Aryna Sabalenka turned the tables on Iga Swiatek to win a gripping battle in
the final of the Madrid Open on Saturday.
The world’s two leading female players were meeting in the final for the second event in a row after Swiatek successfully defended her title in Stuttgart.
But the top seed had to settle for second best here as Australian Open champion Sabalenka powered to a 6-3 3-6 6-3 victory to claim her third title of the season.
“I am just super happy with this win, especially against Iga on clay,” Sabalenka said.
She told Swiatek on court: “It is always tough against each other and you always push me to my limits. I hope we will play many more times this season.”
Although Swiatek still has a big lead in the rankings, the gap has certainly closed and Sabalenka confirmed her status as the best player in 2023 so far ahead of the French Open later this month.
Women’s tennis has been crying out for a rivalry at the top of the game for years and this is shaping up to be a good one, particularly as there appears to be little love lost between the pair.
They are contrasting players with very different personalities – Sabalenka bubbly and ultra-aggressive on court, while Swiatek is a self-declared introvert who uses her supreme athleticism to dominate.
Throw Wimbledon and Indian Wells champion Elena Rybakina into the mix, and the WTA can begin to look forward with optimism despite the lack of true household names.
Sabalenka was desperate to get revenge over Swiatek and she learned the lessons from Stuttgart with a controlled but relentlessly offensive first set.
The Belarusian looked frustrated after failing to take two break points at 3-2 but did not allow her head to drop and made the breakthrough to lead 5-3 before clinching her first set on clay against Swiatek.
The Pole responded impressively by opening up a 3-0 lead in the second set but back came Sabalenka to level with some tremendous power tennis and, had she taken her chance to make it four games in a row, the match might have been over.
However, Swiatek dug in and reeled off another three games in a row to level proceedings at the Caja Magica.
Both knew how important the start of the decider was and, with the intensity levels increasing still further, Sabalenka produced some of her best tennis of the match to move 3-0 in front.
Swiatek rallied again as she looked to maintain her proud record in finals – she had won 14 of her previous 16 – but, having levelled at 3-3, Sabalenka broke once more to lead 5-3 and overcame her nerves to clinch her fourth match point.
Miami champion Kvitova withdraws from Italian Open
Petra Kvitova has withdrawn from next week’s Italian Open with an injury to her right foot, she said on social media on Saturday.
The Czech world No 10, who won the Miami Open last month, added that she hopes to recover in time for the second Grand Slam of the year at the French Open.
“I will miss the beautiful site, the Italian fans and wish the tournament a great week,” the two-time Wimbledon champion wrote on Twitter.
The Italian Open in Rome starts on Tuesday and ends on May 20, while Roland Garros begins on May 28.