WTA Finals showdown: Tennis greats give verdict on motivated Iga Swiatek and rock solid Jessica Pegula
Iga Swiatek and Jessica Pegula will meet for a fourth time in 2023 on Monday when they battle it out for the WTA Finals trophy while Swiatek also has the year-end No 1 ranking on the line.
Both Swiatek and Pegula have enjoyed incredible runs at the season-ending event in Cancun as they are both unbeaten and are yet to drop a set.
Pegula has beaten three of the top four players in the WTA Rankings (world No 1 Aryna Sabalenka, world No 3 Coco Gauff and world No 4 Elena Rybakina) and she could complete the top-four list with victory over world No 2 Swiatek on the final.
Swiatek, meanwhile, has beaten Marketa Vondrousova, Gauff, Ons Jabeur and Sabalenka.
Tennis greats Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova were asked for their views on the two finalists and the former had this to say about four-time Grand Slam winner Swiatek, who will replace Sabalenka at No 1 if she wins the title.
“The last couple of weeks, she’s done really well, winning the title in Beijing and now getting to this final,” the American told the official WTA website.
“Iga had a disappointing Wimbledon and a disappointing US Open. She wants to finish the year strong. And I think she’s got enough left over to pull it off.
“I know that some people have been disappointed with her 2023 season because the only major she won was Roland Garros, but look at the overall picture: She’s 22 years old. If she wins this, and finishes the year-end back at No 1, is she the Player of the Year? I think so.”
— wta (@WTA) November 6, 2023
Swiatek has handled the pressure of also playing for the year-end No 1 ranking brilliantly and Navratilova is impressed.
“With No 1 on the line after beating Sabalenka, absolutely it’s motivation for Iga to win this last match. But … it’s also a lot of pressure. I don’t know the last time the last match of the year came to the No 1 ranking,” she said.
“Playing against Sabalenka, it was in her hands to deny her the No 1. That’s great, because you always want to be in control of your fate. And now in the final, Iga has control again. Think about it: You win the tournament, you get the trophy, you’re No 1 – it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Last year Pegula was 0-3 in the singles and 0-3 in the doubles at the WTA Finals, but she finds herself 4-0 in 2023.
Pegula is also 2-1 against Swiatek this year having won their most recent clash at the Canadian Open and at the United Cup at the beginning of the year. Swiatek, though, won in Doha and leads the overall head-to-head 5-3.
Evert said: “Woo! She lost all her matches a year ago in Fort Worth – 0-6 singles and doubles combined – and look at what she’s done here, solid as a rock. Her game is well suited to these conditions. The only thing I wonder is how tired she is.
She’s played more than 120 matches this year in singles and doubles. At this point, I think it’s more of a mental thing. Can she win this? In a word, yes.”
Navratilova believes the windy conditions in Cancun suit Pegula’s play.
“Once I saw Jessica playing in these conditions, I thought she’s got to be among the favourites. The way she played against Gauff, it didn’t even seem like it was windy on her side of the court,” the tennis great said.
“Jessica’s game is perfect for these conditions. If she can keep it up, I think she can definitely win. It’s just a clean game, with the wind or against the wind.
“She reminds me of Lindsay Davenport, the way she’s hitting it. She doesn’t seem to hit it that hard, but it carries – it’s a heavy ball and it gets through the wind. She said in an interview that she just made the decision to not let anything bother her, and it shows.”
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