Sabalenka stuns Swiatek, faces Garcia for title in WTA finals

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) – Aryna Sabalenka ended top-ranked Iga Swiatek’s 15-match hitting streak against top-10 opponents, winning 6-2, 2-6, 6-1 on Sunday night to earn a spot in the WTA Finals.

The stunner put Sabalenka into the final against Caroline Garcia, who beat Maria Sakkari 6-3, 6-2 and has a chance to become only the second French woman to win the season-ending title.

Sviatek, the French Open and US Open champion and the runaway leader with eight tour wins, cruised through three wins on the circuit, dropping just 13 games to give her the longest winning streak against top 10 opposition since Steffi Graf won 17 straight in 1987 .

Just like that, it was over when the 21-year-old Pole lost her last five matches against a player she had beaten in all four of her meetings this season.

Last year, Sabalenka did not make it to the semifinals with number 1 in the eight-player category. She entered as the seventh player and showed how comfortable she is on the temporary indoor hard court at Dickies Arena. Nine out of 10 victories in her career were achieved on hard surfaces.

“I just want to make sure that every time she plays against me she knows that she really has to work hard to win,” Sabalenka said. “Just because of that mindset, I was able to play at this incredible level tonight.”

Swiatek trailed by one break in the final set with two wide forehands before the second gave her two breaks.

Defending doubles champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova also advanced to the title match with a 7-6(5), 6-2 semifinal win over Lyudmila Kichenok and Jelena Ostapenko.

Just 24 hours after defeating Daria Kasatkina in a tense 80-minute third set to secure the last semi-final spot out of group play, Garcia needed just 74 minutes in total for a career-best fourth win over a top-five opponent this season.

Garcia never trailed, dominating fifth-ranked Sakkari in winners (21-8) and aces (6-0). Amelie Mauresmo (2005) is the only woman from France to win a WTA final.

“I don’t know,” Garcia said when asked where she found the energy to dominate after a quick turnaround. “Yesterday I was a bit tired, but it was nothing unusual after such a big match.”

Garcia advanced from group play to both WTA finals. The 29-year-old lost in the eight-man semifinal five years ago, which was also the last time a player older than Garcia reached the semifinals (Venus Williams).

“I guess I’m five years older, maybe five years wiser,” said the sixth-ranked Garcia, who was No. 74 this time last year. “You try to learn from everything. I have a good team behind me, supporting me when I doubted myself a bit.”

Sakkari was also among five players to reach the semifinals the first two times since the round-robin format was reintroduced in 2003. She lost in the semifinals last year.

Garcia used a 120 mph ace to erase a break chance for Sakkari and extend her lead to 4-0 in the second set.

Garcia’s sixth and final ace — and tournament-leading 14th — answered a double fault that gave Sakkari another break point. Garcia closed out that game for a 5-1 lead en route to a 3-0 career record against Sakkari.

Sakkari has won three straight in the tournament after entering with just one win over a top-10 opponent this season.

The 27-year-old Greek never recovered after dropping the first set this week, finishing with 11 more unforced errors (19) than the winner.

“Without taking anything away from her, I played a very average match on my part,” said Sakkari, who did not qualify for the WTA Finals until the last tournament of the regular season. “I wasn’t harsh. I wasn’t energized.”

The event was moved to Texas from China because of safety concerns for Peng Shuai, the Grand Slam doubles champion who accused a former government official there of sexual assault. Restrictions due to the corona virus also played a role in the decision. This is the first WTA final in the USA since 2005.

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