Iga Swiatek Downs Sabalenka To Set Up US Open Final Against Ons Jabeur | US Open Tennis 2022
Very few things that Ons Jabeur has achieved in her trailblazing, increasingly distinguished career has come easily or quickly. Her success has been the culmination of slow, gradual growth, no steps missed. The transition from her towering junior career to the top 100 was challenging enough, and her rise ever since has taken time. But it means that she has built a solid foundation and she has rarely ever taken a step back.
The latest step up for Jabeur came earlier in the summer when she reached her first grand slam final at Wimbledon. Although she did not win, it has only imbued her with even more confidence and calm in the important moments.
All of that confidence was on show as Jabeur dismantled Caroline Garcia, the in-form player of the summer, 6-1, 6-3 to reach her first US Open final and second grand slam final in a row. She is the first Arab player and African woman to reach the US Open final.
“Feels more real just to be in the finals again,” said Jabeur. “At Wimbledon I was kind of just living the dream, and I couldn’t believe it. Even just after the match, I was just going to do my things and not realizing it was an amazing achievement already. But now I just hope I’m getting used to it.”
Jabeur will face the toughest challenge possible in the final, Iga Swiatek, in a match between the two best players in the world. After twice falling down a break in a tight, intense three set semi-final, Swiatek won the final four games of a high-quality final set to defeat Aryna Sabalenka 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. It is also her second grand slam final of the year, after winning the French Open, and her first career away from clay.
“I wasn’t expecting too much from myself because Aryna’s a good server and I was not sure if I was going to break her back,” said Swiatek, the world No 1, of the third-set deficit. “But I feel like I just played on an even level, so that’s great.”
Sabalenka still lives and dies by her offense, but over the past 18 months she has found a way to harness her power, rising to a career high of No 2 last year. In New York, having addressed the serving issues that plagued her all season, she has played by far the best tennis of the year.
Despite reaching her first US Open semi-final with clear improvements after a complicated summer following the end of her 37-match winning streak, Swiatek was still searching for the confidence and level of play she commanded earlier in the year.
Their form coming into the semi-final was reflected in the early stages as Sabalenka’s piercing shotmaking tore through Swiatek, who struggled badly with her timing and sprayed errors. But down a set, Swiatek burst into action. She cut out her errors, soaked up Sabalenka’s first strike with her spectacular defence and played a clean set of tennis.
As the level rose and both players traded blows in a tense deciding set, Sabalenka made the first moves, twice leading by a break. When she fell down 2-4, though, Swiatek immediately forced her way back into the match. She locked down her game, eradicating unforced errors, she soaked up Sabalenka’s first strike and she rolled through four games to win.
“I’m always hard on myself, but the last couple of days I’m just grateful to be through at this stage of the tournament,” she said.
Earlier in the night, Garcia had arrived on Arthur Ashe Stadium as the in-form player of the summer. She had won 13 matches in a row, dating back to her sprawling title run in Cincinnati from qualifying, her success driven by serving at an extremely high level and smothering her opponents with relentless attack.
But much of Garcia’s career so far has been defined by her head. Unlike Jabeur, Garcia is streaky and her moments of elite play have come in short bursts. It was immediately clear that she was feeling the nerves of the occasion as she dropped serve in an error-strewn opening game.
Jabeur’s growing experience allowed her to manage the occasion far better. She served incredibly well, constantly hitting her spots and exposing Garcia’s advanced return positioning. She peppered Garcia with slices and changes of pace, playing disciplined tennis as she gave away very little.
Afterwards, Jabeur said that it was a rare occasion where her coach, Issam Jellali, thought she had followed their plans to perfection and had nothing to say. As a result, Jabeur will return to the No 2 ranking after the tournament.
“I feel like this final, I’m going full in, I’m going for everything,” said Jabeur. “Definitely also learning from Rome’s final, Madrid, and other ones. But I feel very positive about this one. The most important thing is not to regret, because I’m going to give it all on this one. Even if this one is not going to happen, I’m very sure that another one will come.”