Aryna Sabalenka’s birthday wish has come true as the world No.2 secured a second Mutua Madrid Open title with an impressive 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory over world No.1 Iga Swiatek on Saturday.
A day after turning 25, Sabalenka produced a ferocious performance to avenge the defeat she suffered to Swiatek in the Stuttgart final just 13 days ago.
It was the first time Sabalenka had claimed a win over Swiatek on clay, in four meetings, and it earned her a fifth WTA 1000 crown, a third title of the season, and 13th of her career.
Swiatek has been the undisputed Queen of Clay over the past three seasons and she entered the final against Sabalenka at the Caja Magica with a 46-3 record amassed on clay since she broke through and won her maiden Grand Slam title at 2020 Roland-Garros.
Sabalenka was 2-5 head-to-head against Swiatek prior to Saturday, with her sole two victories coming on hard courts at the WTA Finals in 2021 and 2022.
But the Australian Open champion looked determined to turn things around and pull off one of the toughest things in tennis right now – that is to defeat Swiatek on clay.
Sabalenka battled the three-time Grand Slam champion for two hours and 26 minutes and needed four match points before she finally sealed the deal.
“Congrats Iga on another great tournament. It’s always tough battles against each other, you always push me to the limit and I hope we’re going to keep playing many more times this season,” said Sabalenka during the trophy ceremony.
Sabalenka had admitted she was impatient in her defeat to Swiatek in the Stuttgart final two weeks ago, “going crazy” on her approach shots and “rushing things”.
It was clear from the start that wasn’t going to be the case on Saturday as Sabalenka showed great composure on the court, going toe to toe with Swiatek in the long rallies and selecting the right moments to unleash her power and aggression.
The first break opportunities of the match came in game six as Sabalenka upped the aggression on return to go up 15-40 on Swiatek’s serve. That prompted the top seed to bring out some of her best moves from the back of the court as she saved the first break point with a pinpoint forehand winner and wiped the second with great backhand defence to hold for 3-3.
Sabalenka was unfazed as she created two more chances in Swiatek’s next service game and this time, the world No.2 managed to convert, courtesy of a wide backhand from her opponent, to inch ahead 5-3.
A clutch ace earned Sabalenka a pair of set points and all she needed was one as she took a one-set lead in 42 minutes.
It was the first set Sabalenka had ever taken off of Swiatek on clay. The 25-year-old was 0-6 in sets against Swiatek on the red dirt coming into the contest.
Early in the second set, Swiatek got her first break point of the match on the 56-minute mark and the 21-year-old Pole did not hesitate to capitalise on the opportunity as she carved out a 3-0 gap.
A blistering Sabalenka backhand saw the reigning Australian Open champion retaliate and just like that, the pair were back on level terms at 3-all.
Some lights-out returning from Swiatek helped her to a crucial break of serve in game eight and she closed out the set with some of her cleanest serving of the whole match to take the final into a decider.
Sabalenka drew first blood in the final set and had to dig deep to consolidate her advantage for a 3-0 lead. That third game witnessed one of the best exchanges of the match as Sabalenka courageously covered the net to draw the error from Swiatek.
A sloppy service game from Sabalenka saw Swiatek break back and the world No.1 gave out a huge ‘come on’ and a lively fist pump as she erased her deficit.
Sabalenka halted Swiatek’s momentum and she reclaimed the lead with a sensational forehand on the run to put herself in the position to serve for the championship.
She had to save a break point and come through some nervy moments but Sabalenka finally wrapped up the victory on her fourth chance to become just the fourth woman to win Madrid more than once.
“Congrats Aryna, amazing match. You always play such intense tennis and every match is a challenge so congrats, you fully deserve it. We’re both having a great season so hopefully there are going to be many more finals when we play against other,” said a gracious Swiatek after the match.