Sabalenka looks to hold off Badosa

On the second day of the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara, Group Chichén Itzá’s opening matches reprise a few of this season’s key contests. Will the narratives set earlier in 2021 be underlined – or switched round?

Named after the traditional Mayan metropolis on the Yucatán Peninsula, Group Chichén Itzá options 4 gamers who’ve taken management of their very own storylines in 2021. Aryna Sabalenka attained the consistency that had eluded her previously, and loved long-awaited Grand Slam breakthroughs. Iga Swiatek acquired the authority of a high participant after her beautiful Roland Garros title run in 2020. Maria Sakkari levelled as much as attain two main semifinals. And Paula Badosa broke by on clay – then did it once more on hardcourts.

[4] Maria Sakkari (GRE) vs. [5] Iga Swiatek (POL)

Amongst Sakkari’s many notable accomplishments in 2021 is her proficiency in snapping streaks. Within the Miami quarterfinals, she ended Naomi Osaka’s 13-month, 23-match successful streak in breathtaking vogue, 6-0, 6-4. Within the US Open fourth spherical, she inflicted Bianca Andreescu’s first US Open primary draw loss in 11 matches, triumphing 6-7(2), 7-6(6), 6-3 in a three-and-a-half-hour late-night marathon.

And in between, she ended Swiatek’s Roland Garros title defence, ending the Pole’s 11-match, 22-set Parisian streaks within the quarterfinals 6-4, 6-4. Three months later, Swiatek had nonetheless not solved Sakkari, whose 6-4, 7-5 victory in Ostrava snapped her personal nine-match dropping streak in WTA semifinals.

These matches encapsulated each Sakkari’s current strengths, and what she has added to remodel her sport this season. The Greek’s health has by no means been in query, however from her first event of 2021 in Abu Dhabi, it was clear Sakkari was now in possession of a newly formidable serve and a dedication to a revamped, aggressive sport.

With two titles and second-week showings in any respect the Grand Slams, Swiatek’s first season after changing into a serious champion contained few disappointments. The 20-year-old has proved to be a fast problem-solver, each inside matches and on the subject of the calls for of the tour – although she says herself that there is nonetheless some technique to go.

“I performed some tournaments I’ve by no means been to,” she informed press. “Being seeded there was fairly bizarre. …  I might say probably the most tough factor was studying easy methods to play with the upper rating as a result of often I used to be an underdog. I nonetheless really feel like I did not determine it out utterly.”

The problem of Sakkari has so far eluded her, and rectifying that might be excessive on Swiatek’s checklist of priorities. Her means to deliver one thing totally different to the matchup might be key.

A 3rd victory over Swiatek for Sakkari would ship a message that her presence on the WTA Finals is not simply because she’s an upset artist, however as a result of she belongs on the desk herself.

A bonus for Swiatek might be her preparation. Following Indian Wells, she remained in the USA to observe – and did so at altitude after doubles companion Bethanie Mattek-Sands invited her to Phoenix.

Champion’s Reels: Iga Swiatek, Adelaide | Iga Swiatek, Rome

Nevertheless it was Sakkari who summed up what might be an important angle to the Guadalajara situations in her pre-tournament press convention.

In a flashback to her days as a baseline grinder who relied on her combating spirit, reasonably than her massive serve and forehand, to win, she informed press: “It is simply whoever accepts probably the most errors, whoever accepts enjoying ugly tennis this week – ‘ugly’, you understand what I imply – will give herself a greater likelihood on successful the event.”

Head-to-head: 2-0 to Sakkari, each matches this yr.

[1] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) vs. [7] Paula Badosa (ESP)

When Paula Badosa edged out Aryna Sabalenka with a slim 5-7, 6-2, 7-6(4) victory within the second spherical of Cincinnati in August, the end result was arguably the primary indication that the Spaniard’s stellar clay season was no flash within the pan.

The North American summer time hardcourt swing was arguably Badosa’s hardest portion of the yr. Over the course of the clay and grass swings, she had surged from outdoors the Prime 70 to contained in the Prime 30 because of a sequence of stellar outcomes: a Madrid semifinal, a maiden title in Belgrade, a quarterfinal at Roland Garros and the fourth spherical of Wimbledon.

Champion’s Reels: Paula Badosa, Belgrade | Paula Badosa, Indian Wells

However her Olympic dream had resulted in unlucky vogue within the quarterfinals in opposition to Marketa Vondrousova: affected by heatstroke, Badosa needed to depart courtroom in a wheelchair. Instantly afterwards, she abruptly break up from coach Javier Marti, whom she had credited for her rise. Throughout August, she was additionally beset by a shoulder damage.

Defeating Sabalenka, her third Prime 10 win of the yr, was an announcement that Badosa wouldn’t let these setbacks sluggish her down, and it presaged her phenomenal run to the Indian Wells title in October. She has not competed since then – although informed press that she “did not chill out a lot” – and enters the WTA Finals on a six-match successful streak.

Against this, Sabalenka was in Indian Wells, however not within the draw. She was laid up in her resort room for 10 days, having examined constructive for Covid-19.

“For 4 days I used to be actually sick,” she stated. “I could not transfer. After 4 days, it was all concerning the quarantine. I keep within the room for 10 days. I used to be performing some exercise there, but it surely wasn’t sufficient. It isn’t a lot area, you can’t transfer. You simply keep in a single place and do ground train. Truthfully, it is probably not serving to that a lot.”

Champion’s Reels: Aryna Sabalenka, Abu Dhabi | Aryna Sabalenka, Madrid

That have left Sabalenka ill-prepared for her solely different event of the autumn in Moscow, however might have been a blessing in disguise. Having racked up a 43-16 report by the US Open, her lack of match play since does imply she’s feeling refreshed and “able to go”.

Neither Badosa nor Sabalenka have been happy with their changes to the altitude of Guadalajara but: “I used to be shocked that I can not management something,” stated Sabalenka. However the Belarusian does have expertise of successful above sea degree: considered one of her most spectacular event victories of the yr was in Madrid, the place she used her energy benefit to swat apart the remainder of the draw.

For Badosa, a key to victory might be whether or not she is ready to take Sabalenka the space. 13 of Sabalenka’s 16 losses this yr have been in three units, and so they outweigh her 9 wins in deciding units: whereas her dominance over opponents she will blow away in straight units is simple, as soon as in a closing set the end result turns into extra of a toss-up.

Against this, third units are the place Badosa thrives. Her report in three-setters this yr is 14-6, and the final of these was an excellent check of her fortitude within the longest closing of 2021, defeating Victoria Azarenka 7-6(5), 2-6, 7-6(2) in Indian Wells.

Head-to-head: Badosa leads 1-0.


Beginning at 2pm
[4] Maria SAKKARI (GRE) vs [5] Iga SWIATEK (POL)
[3] HSIEH Su-Wei (TPE) / Elise MERTENS (BEL) vs [6] Alexa GUARACHI (CHI) / Desirae KRAWCZYK (USA)
Not earlier than 7.30pm
[1] Aryna SABALENKA (BLR) vs [7] Paula BADOSA (ESP)
[1] Barbora KREJCIKOVA (CZE) / Katerina SINIAKOVA (CZE) vs [8] Sharon FICHMAN (CAN) / Giuliana OLMOS (MEX)

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