WTA Finals: Swiatek in reach of the summit

The season-ending finale will witness Iga Swiatek and Jessica Pegula shoot for glory.

 - Alex Sharp

Over in Cancun, 11 months of an arduous season come down to one final match in Mexico.

Iga Swiatek has an extra incentive in Monday's final. The Roland-Garros champion returns to the top of the world rankings if she defeats American Jessica Pegula in the WTA Finals title showdown.

Polish perfection so far

Over the weekend Swiatek prevailed in a rain-suspended semi-final over Aryna Sabalenka, who in September stole away her world No.1 crown.

The high-octane 6-3, 6-2 victory sent Swiatek to a 10th consecutive victory, replicating her emphatic group stage wins over Marketa Vondrousova, Coco Gauff and Ons Jabeur.

"It's great to be in the final, especially after a match like that. I feel like I played really nice and the match was really on high intensity," stated Swiatek. "So I'm happy to like, kind of learn my lesson from our previous matches and could really show my game tonight.

"For sure exciting and a little bit different challenge, because I've never been in the final of WTA Finals."

The 22-year-old is one victory away from a second successive year-end No.1 ranking, but the tunnel-vision of the four-time Grand Slam champion has enabled her to shut out the noise.

"I feel like it's still a long way because tomorrow's match should be like the toughest one, it's not going to be easy against Jessie. She really showed that she can play in any conditions," added the Pole.

"I'm just like really focused on just continuing what I have been doing for the past days, and I managed to do this tonight, even though this match was with a lot of hype and everything. So I'm pretty sure tomorrow is going to be similar for me in terms of my mentality."

"Biggest" title up for grabs

Due to her supreme consistency across both singles and doubles disciplines, Pegula qualified for the 2022 WTA Finals on home soil in Fort Worth, Texas.

The American lost all six of her matches on WTA Finals debut, however, this time Pegula has built momentum in the Asian Swing and then transferred that form to Cancun.

Just like Swiatek, the world No.5 has navigated to the final without dropping a set, including triumphs over Elena Rybakina, Aryna Sabalenka and Maria Sakkari.

The 29-year-old sent out of a signal of intent with a 6-2, 6-1 scoreline over doubles partner Gauff on Saturday.

"I think I improved that a lot compared to last year where it was a new experience for me. It's not fun to leave 0-6. So I'm glad I'm definitely turning the tables this year," said Pegula.

"It's tough going and being 0-6, and then coming here and being like, 'Well, I could go 0-6 again.' 

"It's there in the back of your mind. And it takes just a lot of mental strength to battle through that and get one match at a time. And especially in my group, which I felt like was so tough with girls who were playing really well.

"I just found a way to make it work and I feel like playing better with each match."

Pegula has lifted two singles trophies in 2023, with WTA 1000 silverware in Montreal in August and then last month in Seoul. This would be a significant step up for 'Jpeg.'

"I'm feeling confident going into the finals, I think it would mean a lot. It would be the biggest title of my career," claimed Pegula.

"I think it would give me a lot of confidence going into next year, especially for the big events. It would be awesome."

Final head to head

The world No.2 chalked up four victories over Pegula during her imperious, ultra-dominant 2022 season.

Flipping the script, the American began this campaign with a 6-2, 6-2 scoreboard at the United Cup in Sydney in January and prevailed in a three-set thriller in the Montreal semi-finals.

In the middle of those two Pegula triumphs, Swiatek swept to a 6-3, 6-0 Doha final demolition back in February. There are no secrets here, the head-to-head at 5-3 Swiatek suggests this should be another compelling clash.

"She's just a solid player. She hits everything and even though it doesn't seem like, she does some extraordinary shots, she's really, really good at kind of everything she plays," mused Swiatek.

"Also, I think she's kind of mature and really using that tactically sometimes. But a lot of different things. I don't feel like there's a sense for me to dig deep into that. I'll just be focused on myself. And I know what I can do here with my game, so I'll be ready."

Over to the thoughts of Pegula.

"With Iga I think, having two wins over her this year, is going to give me a lot of confidence. But again, I think she's someone where when she's hot, she can kind of steamroll everybody. And I feel like that's what she's doing right now," suggested the world No.5.

"Coming off the Beijing win I think she has a lot of confidence as well. So will be very, very tough opponent, but that's the whole point of being at the year-end Finals, so I'm looking forward to playing her."

Iga Swiatek Jessica Pegula Roland-Garros 2022©Cédric Lecocq / FFT