She arrived as a force of nature, but by the time the title match came around she was a veritable hurricane. Aryna Sabalenka today became Mutua Madrid Open champion and she did so by overcoming the biggest challenge possible; beating world number one Ashleigh Barty, who is in the form of her life. The Belarusian sealed the title in one hour and 39 minutes of play, winning 6-0, 3-6, 6-4.
“It was incredible”, Sabalenka told TVE after her triumph. “The atmosphere was spectacular. I really felt at home playing. Thank you very much to the fans for your support”, continued the champion.
Sabalenka’s 150th WTA tour win means on Monday she will climb to world number 4, her highest career ranking. It is the first title on clay for the Belarusian, who won the title in Abu Dhabi early in the year and now has ten singles trophies in her cabinet. The WTA 1000 in Madrid is now the biggest win of her career.
It was the third time the two players had met in five weeks. First in the WTA 1000 quarter-finals in Miami; then in the final of the Stuttgart WTA 500. It was Barty who came out on top and won both tournaments. But this time Sabalenka came flying out of the blocks in the final; she had only lost 18 games on her way there, a record for any finalist at the tournament, and she was proving indestructible.
In the end it was third time lucky for the Belarusian as her sensational tournament continued. She did not give a look in to a Barty who came into the match with some spectacular statistics. The Australian had won eight of her last nine finals and strung together 16 wins on the European clay. The world number one had also won her last ten matches against Top-10 players. However, a Sabalenka who found her A-game when she most needed it had no respect for these numbers.
In the first set, Sabalenka continued to produce the scintillating tennis she had displayed all tournament and Barty never stood a chance. It was a resounding 6-0 in just 26 minutes of aggressive and powerful tennis that the Australian found no answer to. Although the world number one took a 2-0 lead in the second set, Sabalenka quickly broke back to level it.
Barty, though, was not about to give up and she broke once more, this time converting her advantage to make it 4-2. That break proved enough to level the tie and give the Australian something that no player had earned in any of the previous rounds; a set from Sabalenka.
The third set provided a demonstration of the two styles of tennis on display. The aggression and rage of the Belarusian against Barty’s tempo and changes in trajectory. They both held their serve in the first eight games, but in the ninth, Sabalenka stepped forward on the return and broke the Australian’s serve from well inside the baseline before going on to serve out for the title.
It was a stunning tournament from Sabalenka, the ninth queen of the Caja Mágica.
Did you know…?
The Belarusian confessed after the match that she nearly didn’t play in Madrid because of fitness problems. She was injured after the Stuttgart tournament but her fitness coach led her to a rapid recovery.