Swiatek saves three match points to edge Sabalenka in Madrid Open final

Swiatek & Sabalenka
Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka shake hands after the hard-fought final. Photo: Reuters/Susana Vera

Madrid: World No. 1 Iga Swiatek edged Aryna Sabalenka 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(7) in a gripping and gruelling Madrid Open final to win the title for the first time on Saturday in what was a repeat of last year's summit clash at the WTA 1000 claycourt tournament.

Sabalenka had won the 2023 final in three sets, but it was Swiatek who triumphed this time after saving three championship points to secure her 20th career title and deny the Belarusian a third title on the red clay of the Spanish capital.

The match was the first contest of the season between the top two in the women's rankings and it lived up to expectations, going down as the longest encounter between the two Grand Slam champions at three hours and 11 minutes.

Victory improved Swiatek's record over her Belarusian rival to 7-3 as the three-time French Open champion bagged the only major claycourt title that was missing on her glittering resume.

"Aryna, to many more finals! It's always a challenge playing you. Thanks for always motivating me and forcing me to be a better player," Swiatek said at the trophy presentation.

Iga Swiatek
Iga Swiatek kises the trophy. Photo: AFP/Pierre-Philippe Marcou

In the opening set, Sabalenka used her powerful forehand to great effect, firing winners past Swiatek that had the crowd roaring their approval, but the Belarusian struggled to convert break points against the world No.1 .

In response, Swiatek was more measured in her approach to constructing points and made the decisive break at 5-5 before serving out the set, clinching it when Sabalenka's return popped up off the netcord and set up an easy winner for the Pole.

Sabalenka raised her intensity in the second set and took a 2-0 lead and nearly went 3-0 up but her first double fault of the match opened the door for Swiatek to get on the board before she broke again to put the set back on serve.

But this time, at 5-4, Sabalenka did not lose her focus as the Belarusian smashed a forehand winner down the line to force a decider and go the distance for the fifth time in six matches at the tournament.

Although the top seeds traded breaks in the final set, there was little to separate the pair until Sabalenka had match points.

However, Swiatek held her nerve when she served to stay in the contest, saving two match points en route to forcing the tie-break.

Swiatek also had a match point snatched away from her before she clinched victory on her second opportunity when Sabalenka's return went long and the Pole fell to the ground in relief and exhaustion.

"I tried to make this match as long as possible... Hopefully next year it goes to me," Sabalenka said.

"Three hours, that's a long one! Hopefully we recover fast for the next tournament."

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