Aryna Sabalenka has described her first clay-court victory over Iga Swiatek as “unbelievable” and is excited about the No.2 v No.1 rivalry she is building with the Polish star.
Sabalenka lost to the top-seeded Swiatek in the Stuttgart final on indoor clay two weeks ago but got her sweet revenge in Madrid on Saturday to claim the second clay-court title of her career.
A final showdown between the world No.1 and No.2 is a rare occasion on the WTA tour. Between 2016 and 2022, a top-two clash featured just twice in finals. No.1 Swiatek and No.2 Sabalenka have now squared off twice in two weeks.
The last time the WTA’s No.1 and No.2 met in consecutive events was the year 2000, when Martina Hingis and Lindsay Davenport played at Indian Wells and Miami.
Both Sabalenka and Swiatek are hoping they can make a habit of facing off in championship matches.
“I think that’s something amazing,” Sabalenka told reporters in Madrid on Saturday.
“I think women’s tennis needs this kind of consistency to see world No.1 and world No.2 facing in the finals. I think it’s more enjoyable for fans to watch and it’s more intense. I think when people see these kind of finals, it makes them want to see this battle. That’s something amazing, and hopefully we can keep doing what we are doing this season.”
Swiatek, who still leads the head-to-head series 5-3 against Sabalenka, hailed her rival’s work ethic and is certain they’ll reunite on the match court soon, given their great run of form so far this season.
“Me and Aryna, I feel like we’re just hard-workers. I know that she’s super professional as well in terms of fitness and other stuff, and we’re kind of progressing no matter if we’re on top or not, so I think that’s why we are kind of solid,” explained three-time Grand Slam champion Swiatek.
Sabalenka had never taken a set off of Swiatek in any of their three previous clay-court encounters and is thrilled to have claimed a victory on the 21-year-old Pole’s favourite surface.
The Madrid final featured some incredible returning from both sides, and saw Sabalenka endure many lengthy rallies with Swiatek, the pair pummelling the ball at lightning speed off both wings.
“I definitely respect her a lot. She’s a great player, and what she did last season (winning eight titles including two majors) and what she’s keep doing, it’s really motivates me a lot to improve, to keep working hard, to keep fighting,” said Sabalenka of Swiatek.
“I would say that this year, matches are completely different matches than it was last year. I improved a lot, and I really want to win against her, because she’s such a great player.
“To have this win, especially on clay, that’s something unbelievable. I really happy that I’m able to fight against her and I’m able to get these wins so it’s not like so super boring for people to watch our matches.”
The final featured several momentum shifts, with the duo alternating three-game runs on multiple occasions. But every time Swiatek rebounded, Sabalenka found a way to wrestle back the momentum.
The world No.2 admitted that the last game of the match, which saw her save a break point before converting her fourth championship point, reminded her of her Australian Open final win over Elena Rybakina from earlier this season. Staving off Rybakina on such a momentous occasion helped Sabalenka believe in her chances against Swiatek on Saturday.
“It wasn’t easy at all, but I kind of expect something like that from Iga that she’s gonna fight for the last point, that she’s gonna try everything she can to win this match,” said the 25-year-old Sabalenka.
“I’m super happy how I was able to mentally handle this situation and to keep fighting and keep trying and not getting like really crazy about that situation.
“I stuck to the plan, and I think that was the key today, that I didn’t over-rush things and I was waiting for a better shot to go for powerful shots. I stuck to the plan from the beginning till the end.”