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Swiatek v Sabalenka: A must-see match-up in tennis

  • Matt Trollope

When Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka met in the 2023 Madrid final, Sabalenka’s three-set victory was lauded as one of the best matches of the season.

“Sabalenka produced a statement victory in tennis’s blossoming heavyweight rivalry,” Tumaini Carayol commented in The Guardian. “After three intense, quality sets, Sabalenka, the No.2, edged out the No.1 6-3 3-6 6-3.”

Sabalenka described it as “the best match I ever played, especially on clay court. I think the level was just super high.”

Astonishingly, their clash in the same final 12 months later was even better.

Swiatek saved three match points to avenge her 2023 defeat, becoming the 2024 Madrid Open champion and winning the trophy she needed to complete her collection of the biggest European red clay titles.

“Such high-level tennis”

For more than three hours, the world’s top two players duelled in the Spanish capital, combining for 75 winners and immediately punishing even the slightest dip in level by the other.

In a symbolic reversal of their 2023 final trophy presentation, this time it was Swiatek praising Sabalenka for pushing her to her competitive limits.

“Aryna, to many more finals,” Swiatek began. “(It’s) always a challenge playing against you. So thanks for also motivating me and forcing me to be a better player.”

Swiatek admitted in her press conference that she felt “it was the most intense and, like, crazy final I played. (Compared with) every match, hard to say. But the final makes it even more crazy.”

Understandably gutted as her last backhand sailed long, Sabalenka hammered her racquet four times into the red dirt before meeting a clay-caked Swiatek for the handshake. But with some time between that moment and her press conference, she could appreciate the incredible contest in which she featured.

World No.1 Iga Swiatek (L) and world No.2 Aryna Sabalenka shake hands after their 2024 Madrid Open final, which spanned three hours and 11 minutes. [Getty Images]

"I think I gave my all today, and I just can be proud of myself, and hopefully, like we spoke on the court, next year it goes to my side,” she smiled.

“Definitely was such high-level tennis. Even though I lost this one… I think this year it was much higher level than last year. That's a good thing.”

Former top-10 player Andrea Petkovic admitted she was “mesmerised” as she watched the final unfold. “I had the best three hours and 11 minutes,” she said on Racquet's Rennae Stubbs Tennis Podcast.

“Just watching tennis played at the highest level of not only tennis, but athleticism, of game plan, of technique, of everything. The audience, the atmosphere … They were in it, they were so passionate.

“It was really, really fun.”

Historic connection

This was the 10th meeting between Swiatek and Sabalenka, the fifth to extend the full three sets, and the fourth to play out in a final.

Although Swiatek now leads the head-to-head series 7-3, the significance of the world No.1 and world No.2 repeatedly clashing in big finals – and producing such close, high-quality contests – elevates this specific rivalry into a unique space.

StatsPerform revealed that the top two women had not contested consecutive finals at the same clay-court tournament since Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova met in three straight Roland Garros finals in the 1980s.

And in the past 40 years, only those legendary rivals had met more often as the world No.1 and No.2 on clay than Swiatek and Sabalenka, who in addition to their two Madrid finals also clashed in the 2023 Stuttgart final.

Evert and Navratilova is the most storied rivalry in women’s tennis history. Swiatek and Sabalenka would need to play another 70 times – that is not a misprint – to match the number of meetings between the two 18-time Grand Slam singles champions.

However, Swiatek and Sabalenka do possess contrasting styles, a key ingredient in the enduring success of the Evert-Navratilova series.

Sabalenka’s serve is one of the most fearsome in the game, as is Swiatek’s return. Swiatek’s own serve is improving, as is Sabalenka’s movement. Sabalenka’s incredible first-strike power is countered by Swiatek’s outstanding defence, especially on clay. Sabalenka neutralises Swiatek’s venomous topspin with her ability, as a taller player, to handle higher-bouncing balls.

Their opposing strengths are pleasingly complementary, and when you also pair Sabalenka’s fiery intensity with Swiatek’s comparative iciness as a competitor, the result is compelling.

“I need these top players to play more often!”

Sabalenka admitted she wanted to play many more finals against Swiatek.

She also hadn’t forgotten her captivating 2024 Madrid Open semifinal against Elena Rybakina, which like her final against Swiatek was decided in a third-set tiebreak.

“I really hope that we'll be able to keep the level or increase the level every year … and I'm really happy to be one of these Big Three, you call us,” she smiled.

RELATED: Women's game benefitting from Swiatek effect

“It's really motivating me a lot to keep working and to keep improving myself just so I stay there, and … get as many wins against them as I can.”

Swiatek, Sabalenka and Rybakina have separated themselves – by some margin – from the rest of the tour in 2024, occupying the top three spots in the Race to the WTA Finals.

The Madrid final was the 25th meeting in this ongoing “trivalry” and in the three most recent matches featuring two of them, all have been three-set battles and each player has tasted both victory and defeat.










6-3 4-6 6-3






1-6 7-5 7-6(5)






7-5 4-6 7-6(7)




"Remember the last podcast when I said: 'I need these top players to play each other more often!’ Because those are the best matches,” Petkovic said to Stubbs.

"It's not that we are lacking rivalries – it's just that they weren't playing each other (enough). And now they are playing each other, and this is what happens! It's the most incredible tennis.

"It doesn't mean that people from the rest of the pack cannot beat them, but they have to have a great day, and somebody like Sabalenka, Swiatek, Rybakina, they have to have a mediocre day. But if they play each other, they won't have mediocre days, because they will push each other to play even better than they already can.

“And that's what happened yesterday (in the Madrid final).”

Of the 25 matches in the Swiatek-Sabalenka-Rybakina series, just four have come at Grand Slam tournaments.

The most recent of those was the Australian Open 2023 final between Sabalenka and Rybakina, another epic hailed as one of the great major finals.

Last year, Sabalenka was one point away from setting up a Roland Garros final blockbuster against Swiatek, before Karolina Muchova rebounded from 5-2 down to snatch a semifinal victory.

Given their growing collection of clay-court finals, perhaps Roland Garros 2024 will be the site of the next can’t-miss showdown between the world’s top two, a match-up so close to being realised last year on the same stage.