No.3 seed Aryna Sabalenka made a triumphant return to the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix final with a 7-6 (5), 6-4 semifinal win over No.2 seed Paula Badosa in Stuttgart on Saturday.
Sabalenka, who finished as runner-up to Ashleigh Barty last season, moved back into the championship match after a 1-hour and 40-minute victory over her Stuttgart doubles partner Badosa.
Sabalenka will take on World No.1 Iga Swiatek in the final on Sunday. Swiatek survived a 3-hour marathon against Liudmila Samsonova to win her 22nd straight match and reach the Stuttgart final in her tournament debut.
Words from the winner: “In the beginning, I couldn’t find my rhythm, and then there was like nothing to lose,” Sabalenka said afterward. “She was up with a break. I kind of told myself in that game, ‘You have to work through it, you have to run and get everything you can, and just put her under pressure in that game.’ I did it well and I broke her back about her.
“That gave me a little bit more power and motivation to keep fighting for this set. And then with every point I played, I was feeling better and better, and I found my rhythm. But it was a tough match. There were a lot of break points for her, for me. It was ups and downs, and I am super happy that I was able to win this one.
Sabalenka surging: In the first showdown between Top 5 players in 2022, Sabalenka collected a breakthrough win over Badosa after losing their two previous meetings, which both came last year.
By continuing her strong week, Sabalenka extends her upswing in results. Sabalenka, who was already in her first semifinal di lei since last year’s US Open, is now into her first final di lei since last year’s Mutua Madrid Open nearly a full year ago.
Sabalenka will be contesting the 16th Hologic WTA Tour singles final of her career. She has a positive record in finals, having won 10 titles to five runner-up finishes.
By the numbers: Despite her semifinal loss, Badosa will still rise to a career-high position of World No.2 in Monday’s new rankings. However, she was overwhelmed by the constant big hitting from Sabalenka, as Sabalenka had 33 winners, more than doubling Badosa’s total.
Sabalenka was also stronger returning second serves, winning 57 percent of those points to Badosa’s 45 percent success rate. That helped Sabalenka convert three of her six break points di lei; Badosa had more break points with eight, but she only converted two of those chances.
Tale of the match: Sabalenka had to stage multiple comebacks to eke out the 60-minute opening set, where Badosa took the early lead with strong returning to break for 4-2. However, the Spaniard could not serve out the set at 5-3, firing a forehand long on the third break point of that game, and Sabalenka pulled back on serve.
Both hard-hitting players fired on all cylinders in a decisive first-set tiebreak. A blistering backhand gave Badosa a 4-1 lead, but Sabalenka slammed winners from both sides to pull to 4-4. At 5-5, Sabalenka blasted an ace, lining up the first set point for either player, and she converted that after Badosa misfired on a backhand.
An early exchange of breaks in the second set did little to untangle the mystery of who would prevail, but at 5-4, Badosa was overtaken by errors. Two consecutive double faults by the Spaniard ended the match, giving Sabalenka her first victory over her friend di lei.
Swiatek next up: Sabalenka and Swiatek have split their two previous meetings. Sabalenka prevailed in three sets at last year’s Akron WTA Finals, but Swiatek avenged that loss in straight sets en route to her 2022 Doha title.
“That [Doha] match surprised me because [Swiatek] played super fast and super aggressive, “said Sabalenka.” In that match I was surprised in every point she was making.
“Now as she won three titles in a row, that’s not going to surprise me. I’ll be ready for this game, and I’ll be ready for a fight, and the winners she’s going to make are not going to surprise me . I think mentally that’s going to give me a little power to compete, no matter what. “