Fittingly, the two best players on the circuit will meet on Sunday (13:00 local time) for the Internazionali BNL d’Italia title. Iga Swiatek will carry his 27-match winning streak to the final, where he will take on Ons Jabeur, who has currently won 11 matches in a row.
For Swiatek, he acknowledges what he has accomplished, but is “trying to avoid all that fuss and just play well at the moment.”
The talk of a champion.
Will Swiatek keep rolling or can Jabeur, who had a much tougher semi-final encounter, keep his own streak going? Here is our case for each player.
With 27 straight wins and 40 of her last 41 sets under her belt, the question is not whether Iga Swiatek will win, but whether she will be tested.
During his run to the Miami Open title, he lost 4.3 games per match. In Stuttgart, he lost 7.5 games per game. Last week, he conceded just 17 games en route to the final: an average of 4.3 games per match lost in five encounters.
That’s even before he reached his dominance in the finals. Swiatek won all seven of her ITF finals, losing a set just once (when she was 15 against Martina Di Giuseppe at the 2017 Bergamo ITF W15). She has won seven of her last eight tour-level finals. In those seven, no one has managed to take more than five games from him, and each of those opponents was a player who had broken into the Top 5 in the standings.
Polona Hercog stands out as the only player to have defeated Swiatek in a professional final (6-3, 3-6, 6-3 at Lugano 2019 in Swiatek’s first final).
Swiatek’s most emphatic final was in Rome last year, where she defeated Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 6-0. Swiatek is sweeping the course across multiple tournaments and surfaces, but if anything, the slow clay of Rome (and Roland Garros) only improves her game. She also means that she has the motivation to accomplish a feat she has yet to achieve: a successful title defense.
Swiatek’s opponent in the final, Ons Jabeur, is one of the few players against whom he still has something to prove. This is the first time he meets the Tunisian this year. Jabeur won both of their 2021 meetings, at Wimbledon and Cincinnati, and leads the overall matchup 2-1.
But Swiatek has shown this season that she can turn around tough losses, turning around head-to-head deficits against Maria Sakkari and Aryna Sabalenka. And Swiatek will have a significant advantage coming into the final fresher.
Swiatek, who did not play in Madrid, won all four of his matches in straight sets this week. By contrast, Madrid champion Jabeur has barely stopped for breath in over two weeks, narrowly escaping Sakkari in the quarterfinals and Daria Kasatkina in the semis. –Alex MacPherson
It would have been easy and completely understandable if Jabeur had been content with another quarter-final run. But trailing 6-1, 5-2 to No. 4 Maria Sakkari, the World No. 7 put her foot down: no, she wasn’t ready for this streak to end. She went on to win 10 of the last 11 games to stuns Sakkari for his first Top 5 win on clay.
Against Daria Kasatkina in the semifinals, Jabeur again found herself with one foot on the plane to Paris. And again, she refused to lose. Looking toward match point deep in the third set, Jabeur hit a forehand from the sideline. Two points later she erased another line with a winning drop shot. Two games later, still another comeback was complete.
It’s no longer about deep runs for Jabeur, who sits behind Swiatek at No. 2 in the Race to the WTA Finals. Both women are on double-digit winning streaks, and after joking earlier in the week that she was Swiatek’s co-driver, the affable Tunisian said Sunday is every woman for herself.
“So tomorrow the plane will crash and there’s only one parachute left,” Jabeur said. “I hope to take it.”
So what does Jabeur need to do to stop Swiatek, which appears to be running on pure jet fuel? It’s all about belief, and Jabeur has concrete reasons to believe that it may be Swiatek’s stopper. As Alex already pointed out, Jabeur has won his last two matches.
“Playing Iga, someone who hasn’t lost a match since forever, I think [what] maybe it was missing [for] the other players [is] believe more that they can beat her,” Jabeur said. “She was playing amazing in Miami-Indian Wells. Now she is playing very well. [But] she’s a human being. People should know that.”
No.1 Iga Swiatek (34) and No.7 Ons Jabeur (25) lead the tour in wins this season.
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) May 14, 2022
Jabeur has the ability to relax Swiatek with his variety, varying his timing between flats and spins. He also has his devastating drop shot, which not only scores points but leaves opponents increasingly frustrated. It is notable that the only player to win six games in a Swiatek set in Rome was Bianca Andreescu, who used her variety to keep the ball in awkward hitting positions.
In Madrid, Jabeur admitted she was nervous ahead of the final against Jessica Pegula. The reason? She had too much time to think about the biggest game of her career. That won’t be a problem in Rome, where her uninterrupted schedule won’t allow her to think too much at the moment.
“I feel like in Rome I didn’t have time to think,” Jabeur said. “The thing is that it is good not to stress. In Madrid I had a lot of time [between] the semi-final and the final. It was horrible waiting. Perhaps I take advantage of the great experience I had in Madrid to have it here in Rome”.
Jabeur is aiming to become the third woman to win Madrid and Rome in a row, with Dinara Safina and Serena Williams achieving the feat before her. A win would also cross another milestone off her list, as she would leave Rome with her Top 5 debut on Monday.
“I had my first baby in Madrid,” Jabeur said, laughing. “You know how much I love the twins, so…it’s the brother or the sister, Rome.” — Courtney Nguyen