Sabalenka stuns Swiatek, faces Garcia for WTA Finals title

WTA Finals
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FORT WORTH, Texas — Aryna Sabalenka stood stoically ever so briefly, before crouching for an emphatic fist pump to go with a scream.

Yeah, the seventh-ranked woman in the eight-player WTA Finals couldn’t hide the emotion, because she knew exactly what she had done.

Sabalenka ended world No. 1 Iga Swiatek’s 15-match winning streak against top-10 opponents, taking a 6-2, 2-6, 6-1 victory in the semifinals of the season-ending event.

The stunner puts Sabalenka in final Monday night against No. 6 Caroline Garcia, who streamrolled Maria Sakkari 6-3, 6-2 and can become just the second Frenchwoman to win WTA Finals after Amelie Mauresmo in 2005.

Swiatek, the French Open and U.S. Open champion and runaway leader with eight tour victories, cruised through three round-robin victories, losing just 13 games to give her the longest winning run against top-10 opponents since Steffi Graf won 17 straight in 1987.

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

Sabalenka was No. 1 when she beat Swiatek in round-robin play at last year’s WTA Finals, but neither player made the semifinals.

With that much out of the way for both, Sabalenka showed how comfortable she was on the temporary indoor hard court at Dickies Arena. Nine of her 10 career victories have come on hard courts.

“I just want to make sure that every time she plays against me, she knows that she really has to work hard to get a win,” said Sabalenka, whose fourth loss this year to Swiatek was a three-setter in the U.S. Open semifinals. “Only because of this thinking, I was able to play at this amazing level tonight.”

Swiatek fell behind one break in the final set with two wide forehands before another one put her down two breaks. Sabalenka gave herself a match point with her 12th and final ace, then hit another serve so good, Swiatek’s lunging return was wide and long.

After a tour-best 67 victories and a 37-match unbeaten run from February to June that was the longest in women’s tennis in a quarter-century, this wasn’t quite the ending Swiatek had in mind.

“In the third, I just started making mistakes from shots that I wouldn’t make mistakes usually,” Swiatek said. “At the beginning of the first set, I just wanted to be kind of focused. Maybe I didn’t realize soon enough that I should be more pepped up.”

Garcia was playing just 24 hours after beating Daria Kasatkina in a tense 80-minute third set to secure the last spot in the semifinals, but needed just 74 minutes total for a career-best fourth victory over a top-five opponent this season.

Garcia never trailed, dominating the fifth-ranked Sakkari in winners (21-8) and aces (6-0).

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

Garcia has advanced out of group play in both WTA Finals appearances. The 29-year-old lost in the semifinals in the eight-player event five years ago, which also was the most recent time a player older than Garcia reached the semis (Venus Williams).

“I guess I’m five years older, maybe five years wiser,” said Garcia, who was No. 74 about this time last year. “You try to learn from everything. I’ve got a good team behind me, supporting me when I was a little bit doubting myself.”

Sakkari also was among the five players who have reached the semis their first two times since the round-robin format was reintroduced in 2003. She lost in the semis last year.

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

Garcia’s sixth and final ace answered a double fault that gave Sakkari another break point. Garcia closed out that game for a 5-1 lead on the way to a 3-0 career record against Sakkari.

Sakkari had three straight-set victories in the tournament after coming in with just one win over a top-10 opponent this season.

The 27-year-old from Greece never recovered after dropping her first set of the week, finishing with 11 more unforced errors (19) than winners.

“Not taking away anything from her, I played a very average match from my side,” said Sakkari, who didn’t qualify for the WTA Finals until the final event of the regular season. “I wasn’t sharp. I wasn’t energized.”

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

The Czech duo will play Veronika Kudermetova and Elise Mertens, 6-1, 6-1 winners over Desirae Krawczyk and Demi Schuurs.

The event was moved to Texas from China over concerns about the safety of Peng Shuai, a Grand Slam doubles champion who accused a former government official there of sexual assault. Coronavirus restrictions also played a part in the decision. It’s the first WTA Finals in the U.S. since 2005.

Davis Cup: Australia beats Croatia 2-1 to reach final

Day Four - Davis Cup Finals 2022
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MALAGA, Spain – Australia had to fight back twice to reach its first Davis Cup final in 19 years after beating Croatia 2-1 on Friday.

Lleyton Hewitt’s team recovered from losing the first singles. Then the Australian doubles pair battled back from a set down in the decider.

Australia won its 28th and last title in 2003. It has finally got back to the final.

“I am so proud. Australia has a really rich history in this competition,” said Hewitt, who played a record 43 Davis Cup ties for Australia from 1999-2018.

“We have been fortunate to win it all on a number of occasions a long time ago. And I know what it meant to me as a player to play a final, and I am glad these guys can play it.”

Borna Coric put Croatia ahead by beating Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-4, 6-3, but Alex de Minaur leveled after defeating Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-2 to send it to the doubles.

Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell then secured the semifinal win against Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic by 6-7 (3), 7-5, 6-4.

“This is what this team is about, that never-say-die attitude,” De Minaur said.

Canada will face Italy on Saturday in the other semifinal.

In the opener, Kokkinakis struck 11 aces, but Coric was able to break him once in each set.

“On my serve, I felt like it was an ace or he put it back on my toes,” Kokkinakis said.

Cilic, who was on the Croatia team that won the title in 2018, committed 10 double faults. That erratic serve helped De Minaur break Cilic four times and level his head-to-head record with the former U.S Open winner at two wins each.

Thompson and Purcell bettered the more experienced pair of Mektic and Pavic, both ranked in the top 10 in doubles. Thompson and Purcell combined for 13 aces, broke the Croats twice, and never dropped a service game to come back after losing the first-set tiebreaker.

Two-time winner Croatia was the runner-up last year.

“It proved too difficult on the court today,” Cilic said. “(But) for us it has been a great year again after the finals last year to reach the semis.”

The final is on Sunday on the indoor court in Malaga.

Italy beats U.S. to reach Davis Cup semifinal with Canada

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MALAGA, Spain — Italy beat the United States in a doubles decider to advance to the Davis Cup semifinals for the first time in eight years.

Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini defeated Tommy Paul and Jack Sock 6-4, 6-4 to secure a 2-1 win for Italy after the teams split the singles matches.

Bolelli and Fognini broke once in each set to set up a semifinal against Canada, which beat Germany 2-1.

Earlier, Lorenzo Sonego used his big serve to defeat Frances Tiafoe 6-3, 7-6 (7) and give the Italians a 1-0 lead. Taylor Fritz pulled the U.S. level after beating Lorenzo Musetti 7-6 (8), 6-3.

The U.S. holds a record 32 Davis Cup trophies, but its last one came in 2007 under the previous format of best-of-five matches played in host countries instead of the revamped event where the final eight teams gather in one spot for a week of tennis. The American team led by captain Mardy Fish came to Spain with high hopes that it could break that dry spell.

“I have wanted to win this thing for a very long time as a player and captain,” Fish said. “It is not going to happen this year and it stinks. We are going home without the trophy, which is a bummer.”

Italy, whose only Davis Cup title came in 1976, won without its top two players as Jannik Sinner has an injured finger and Matteo Berrettini is recovering from a foot problem.

Sonego, ranked No. 45, struck 17 aces and never ceded a service game to Tiafoe. Sonego clinched the win after Tiafoe netted a forehand following a long rally to end the second-set tiebreaker.

No. 19-ranked Tiafoe, who reached the U.S. Open semifinals in September, won their only previous meeting at the Paris Masters just over three weeks ago.

This time Sonego took the initiative, Tiafoe said.

“A couple of weeks ago I was playing very aggressive, running him around, hitting much harder. Today, he was,” Tiafoe said.

Sonego saved two set points while serving at 6-5 in the second set to force the tiebreaker. He said he drew on the loud Italian fans who showed up to support him in Spain, which is home to more than 250,000 Italians.

“I am really proud of my team and of this unbelievable crowd, it looks like we are in Italy. They support us from the beginning,” said Italy captain Filippo Volandri.

Fritz hit 12 aces and had one break to beat the No. 23-ranked Musetti for a second time after defeating him at Wimbledon in June.

Canada’s Denis Shapovalov rebounded from losing his opening singles match to help clinch the winning point in doubles against Germany.

Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff, ranked 152nd, beat the No. 18-ranked Shapovalov 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (2) in the opener. Felix Auger-Aliassime kept Canada’s hopes alive with his 7-6 (1), 6-4 victory over Oscar Otte, sending it to doubles.

Shapovalov then teamed up with Vasek Pospisil to beat Kevin Krawietz and Tim Puetz 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.

A Croatia team led by Marin Cilic advanced to the other semifinal after beating a Spain side that was missing Rafael Nadal and No. 1-ranked Carlos Alcaraz.

Croatia will face Australia in the other semifinal.