The toughest thing to deal with in tennis can somehow also be the best thing about it.
Most players have to learn how to handle losing every single week, with only one person walking away with the champion’s trophy each Sunday. But every Monday, a new tournament begins and with it comes another opportunity to do better; another chance to redeem oneself.
As she gets ready to lock horns with Iga Swiatek for a second time in 14 days, Aryna Sabalenka is hoping she can accomplish in the Madrid final on Saturday what she couldn’t in Stuttgart two weeks ago: To beat Swiatek on clay for the first time.
The world’s No.1 and No.2 – Swiatek and Sabalenka – are squaring off in a final for a second consecutive tournament and Sabalenka must be thrilled that the opportunity to avenge her defeat in Stuttgart has come around so quickly.
The reigning Australian Open champion is 2-5 head-to-head overall, and 0-3 on clay, against Swiatek, who is the undisputed current best clay-courter on tour.
“It’s going to be really amazing if I can beat a player like Iga on clay court,” said Sabalenka, who has never taken a set off of Swiatek on the red dirt.
“I don’t have to rush things. I just have to wait for my opportunity and I just have to take it and go for it. I think in Stuttgart I was going crazy when I had these slower shots or shorter shot or approach shot. I was rushing things. I tried to go for winners. This time I’ll just play with more passion, and I’ll just wait for a better shot to finish the point.”
Saturday will witness the first WTA 1000 final between a world No.1 and No.2 since Serena Williams faced Li Na in the 2014 Miami final.
Sabalenka is a former champion in Madrid, having defeated then world No.1 Ashleigh Barty in the 2021 title decider. That time too, she had just lost to Barty in the Stuttgart final before turning the tables on the now-retired Aussie in the Spanish capital.
For Swiatek, triumphing at the Caja Magica would see her complete her set of big titles on clay. The 21-year-old Pole is a two-time winner at Roland-Garros, Rome and Stuttgart, with Madrid being the only big one missing from her CV.
“I always have good feelings about this surface. Even when I’m in a tougher position or when the match is not going the right way, I know I have the ability to change something up and I have a Plan B,” Swiatek told wtatennis.com.
“On clay I feel like I have more weapons and I can use them. It doesn’t matter what the streak is or how many matches I’ve won. I always feel good on clay.”
The three-time Grand Slam champion made it to the final this fortnight at the loss of just one set, and dropped a mere five games across her last two matches.
She expects a tougher affair against Sabalenka on Saturday.
“I think every match is different and every match is hard against Aryna, especially. I don’t know if it will be hard or easier, because it’s always hard. I’m just going to be focused and disciplined and try to do my job no matter how she’s going to play or how the conditions will be,” said Swiatek, who is gunning for the 14th title of her career this weekend.
Swiatek owns a remarkable 13-3 win-loss record in finals, while Sabalenka is 12-10 in championship matches and would become just the fourth woman to win Madrid more than once should she come out on top on Saturday.
Sabalenka, who turned 25 on Friday and is hoping for a double celebration this weekend, leads the tour with 28 match-wins against just four losses in 2023.
Both players have lifted two trophies each so far this season and are gunning for a third.
No.1 vs No.2, both in form, and with 1,000 ranking points and a €1,105,265 winners’ cheque on the line – what could possibly top that? We’re in for a real treat this Saturday!