“Your words are why Wimbledon’s decision is right”

Semifinals day al Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, where two epic matches are staged. In the first, Aryna Sabalenka gets his first career win against Paula Badosa – fresh world number two from next Monday – winning a particularly tight match. It is nothing, however, compared to what goes on afterwards: one battle for over three hours and 250 points between Iga Swiatek and Liudmila Samsonovawith the world number one triumphant at the photo finish.

[3] A. Sabalenka b. [2] P. Badosa 7-6 (5) 6-4

Two long games inaugurate the first set, where Badosa starts serving first and immediately has the opportunity to start better. Under 0-1 15-40, however, Sabalenka slowly enters the game, saving the first two break points of the match and impacting 1-1. The set runs off fast and on needwith the next three games held at 15. In the sixth game, the Spaniard places the first extension, climbing 4-2 and confirming, not without some effort, the advantage in the next game. The inertia seems all on the side of the number two seed which, however, stumbles when closing. Although Badosa manages to foil two consecutive counter-break opportunities, on the third occasion he has to give up the service to Sabalenka, without even having tasted a set point. From here the game slowly starts to spin and will no longer slip out of the hands of the Belarusian. We arrive at the tiebreak, where Badosa starts better (3-0 with a double minibreak) but suffers the return of her opponent, who wins six of the last seven points, including a breathtaking exchange at 4-5. It is above all the service that makes the difference, with 77% of the points won with the first against 54% of the Spaniard.

Also in the second set, with the exception of the first two games, it is the service that reigns supreme. It starts immediately with a break in favor of Badosa, who tries to shake off the disappointment of the first partial immediately putting your head forward in the second. Sabalenka, however, is not there and with three winning setbacks immediately puts things back in place, recovering the break and then taking the lead 2-1 with difficulty. Even in the third game, in fact, the seeded number three is forced to save two consecutive break points, but with the help of the service he manages to get out of a complicated situation. The level of tennis expressed by the two players remains very high and up to 4-4 none of the protagonists will have more opportunities to snatch the opponent’s serve. Sabalenka keeps two consecutive games at zero, Badosa responds by conceding just three points in as many batting rounds. The real (subtle) difference manifests itself in the last two games of the match: in the ninth game, in fact, the Spaniard has an opportunity to go and serve for the set, procuring it in a rather fortunate way. In fact, on 30 equal, Badosa replies straight ahead without too many pretensions, but the ball climbs on the belt and falls back into Sabalenka’s half of the field, who lets himself go in a decidedly nervous smile. The Belarusian, however, does not allow herself to be frustrated, putting on the field three consecutive firsts – all very robust – with which either he gets a direct point, or he masterfully opens the field to close with the next shot. Badosa is helpless and, in the tenth game, commits two consecutive double fouls from 0-30 and, in fact, he delivers the game, the game and the meeting to his friend-rival.

“It was a tough match, she is one of the toughest opponents to face – Sabalenka begins in the post-match interview. I just tried to give my all and fight on every point: I was good at getting the counterbreak right away at the opening of the second set and, why not, also a little lucky. I am really happy with today’s result. At one point I thought that I should have risked already from the service: I didn’t want to do ace, I just had to put the first in an incisive way and in the end it went well. If I have faith in my game and am more aggressive I feel I can do much better than when I only play in a throw-in. I feel I can put more pressure on my opponents.

[1] I. Swiatek b. L. Samsonova 6-7 (4) 6-4 7-5

Even in his match today – as he did the rest of the week – Swiatek rocket off, trying to close the point from the very first exchanges. Samsonova on the contrary, despite managing to find some nice winners, immediately capitulates to the second front break ball, unable to stem the power of the Polish. In no time at all we arrive at 3-0 and seems to be attending one of Swiatek’s last twenty-one matches (all won consecutively), but the Russian slowly enters the game. In fact, in the fifth game, ahead 3-1, the world number one must save her first two break points of the match, succeeding without too many risks. This twelve-point game is the prelude to what will happen shortly thereafter: Samsonova takes more and more courage and, in the seventh game, he hits a well-deserved counterbreak, also taking advantage of some empty passes of his opponent. Having lost the advantage, Swiatek still remains ahead in the score (4-3) and, to be honest, has several possibilities to go and serve for the set. With a wonderful straight cross tracer, in fact, the number one seed gets three consecutive breakpoints, which, however, he fails to exploit. The game gets longer and the game increasingly takes on the role of one battle of nerves: Swiatek has another chance to climb 5-3, but Samsonova cancels it again, managing to close after another very hard-fought 14-point game. There is no doubt that the Russian expresses herself at a very good level, but it should be emphasized that the game is certainly not perfect on the part of the world number one, who collects several free games and gradually loses confidence in her shots. The first set is resolved in a tiebreak – despite a dangerous break point well foiled by Swiatek at 5-5 – where a single minibreak is decisive, the first. The world number 31 in fact starts better, immediately flying 3-0 and managing the advantage well. The Pole tries to stay in the wake with two consecutive aces that allow her to go up to 4-5, but two excellent firsts from Samsonova close the scores on 7-6 (4)interrupting a strip of 28 sets consecutively won by the world number one. The numbers (of a certainly not memorable first set) are practically identical: 32 errors each, one more winner in favor of the Russian (14-13). The big difference, however, lies in the ability to distribute the respective blows: in the important moments, in fact, Samsonova does not concede anything, while surprisingly it is always Swiatek who fails first.

Another aspect that is particularly surprising is the large amount of wrong answers from Swiatek, directly in the execution or sometimes even in the choice, to a service that is not irresistible as that of the Russian. The second set also starts along the lines of the first, that is, with very hard-fought games in which, in the end, there are more mistakes than winners. In the third game Samsonova wins another very long gamefrom 18 points: also in this case the chances for the number one seed are not lacking (four, of which two consecutive), but they are still some imperfect answers to prevent her from snatching her opponent’s serve. We proceed like this on need up to 4-4 without, for either of the two protagonists, there is the shadow of a break point. Here, however, incredibly, everything changes. Samsonova does nothing different than her other shifts (ie fielding a good first and holding the exchange), but suddenly Swiatek wakes up. At 0-15 he produces one great winning answer backhand and on the break ball, always backhand, he puts another on the line, forcefully tearing the Russian serve and keeping his serve at zero immediately afterwards. A 6-4 conquered almost exclusively by anger and head, by the desire to stay in the game and the refusal of defeat. After all, she is not by chance the strongest player in the world, especially given how the winner of Roland Garros 2020 got out of the quicksand: with the answer, the blow that until then had given her less satisfaction.

On the wave of enthusiasm, Swiatek starts as best he could not even in the third, conquering the fourth consecutive game and snatching the joke from Samsonova even to zero. The worst seems to be over, but the game is far from its conclusion: the number one seed fails to realize the advantage, in turn losing the serve and immediately returning the advantage. The break exchange continues, with the Russian who again gives up the service and Swiatek who, this time, manages to extend on 3-1. Game over? Not even for an idea: the number 31 of the ranking does not stop believing in the company even for a moment and – even if at this point it should no longer surprise – the match undergoes a further shake. Samsonova slips three consecutive games, putting his head forward for the first time in the set (4-3). Each point is a small achievement and each game is fought as if it were the last. As in the first set, the third also ends in a sprint, also thanks to a magic in defense that allows Swiatek to move to 5-5. In the eleventh game, the Russian goes to serve to secure the tiebreak and, ahead 30-15, commits two very bloody mistakes that bring the number one in the world to serve for the match. At this point, Swiatek can no longer look back and, after touching the three hours of gameplay (three hours and three minutes to be precise), the Pole wins the longest match of the season, exploding in a roar of happiness after the final 6-7 6-4 7-5 and then 250 points disputed: 130-120 in favor of the winner. With this success, the world number one hits the spot 22nd consecutive win, sixth out of eight this year after losing the first set and eighth out of nine in the deciding set.

These are his words at the end of an epic match: “It was an extremely long and difficult match, we had a lot of ups and downs: it felt like a marathon. I know there are players who can play even better: tennis is a sport in which everyone can beat you and she played very well today. She pulled very hard, I tried to push hard but the ball always came back even faster. I must be honest, I hate losing, but I don’t think that’s what motivates you. Not wanting to give up is something that drives not only me but I believe all the other players as well. For the final there won’t be much time to recover, but it doesn’t matter: I’m physically ready for anything“.

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