Iga Swiatek takes down Sabalenka to set up US Open final against Ons Jabeur

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Very little that Ons Jabeur has achieved in her groundbreaking, increasingly distinguished career has come easily or quickly. Her success was the culmination of slow, gradual growth that never missed a beat. The transition from her towering junior career to the top 100 was tough enough, and her rise since then has taken time. But it does mean that he has built a solid foundation and has rarely taken a step back.

Related: Iga Swiatek and Ons Jabeur to meet for US Open title after semi-final wins – as it happened

The final step for Jabeur came earlier in the summer when she reached her first grand slam final at Wimbledon. Although she didn’t win, it has imbued her with even more confidence and composure in the important moments.

All that confidence was on display as Jabeur dismantled Caroline Garcia, the hot player of the summer, 6-1, 6-3 to reach her first US Open final and second straight grand slam final. She is the first Arab and African player to reach the US Open final.

“It feels more real to be in the finals again,” Jabeur said. “At Wimbledon I was just living the dream and I couldn’t believe it. Even right after the race, I’d be doing my thing and didn’t realize it was already an amazing accomplishment. But now I’m just hoping to get used to it.”

Jabeur will face his toughest challenge in the final, Iga Swiatek, in a match between the two best players in the world. After twice going down a break in a tight, intense three-set semifinal, Swiatek won the last four games of a high-quality final set to defeat Aryna Sabalenka 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. It is also her second grand slam final of the year, following her French Open win, and her first career away from clay.

“I didn’t expect much from myself because Aryna is a good server and I wasn’t sure if I was going to break her back,” Swiatek, the world No. 1, said of the third-set deficit. “But I feel like I played up to par, so that’s great.”

Sabalenka still lives and dies by her offense, but over the past 18 months she’s found a way to capitalize on her power, reaching a career-high No. 2 last year. In New York, having dealt with the serve issues that have plagued her all season, she played by far her best tennis of the year.

Despite reaching her first US Open semi-final with clear improvements after a rocky summer after her 37-match winning streak ended, Swiatek was still looking for the confidence and level of play she had earlier in the year.

Ons Jabeur

Ons Jabeur celebrates after winning the US Open semi-final against Caroline Garcia. Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters

Their form going into the semi-final was reflected in the early stages as Sabalenka’s penetrating shot tore through Swiatek, who struggled with her timing and made errors. But in one set, Swiatek burst into action. She cut her errors, won Sabalenka’s first serve with her spectacular defense and played a clean set of tennis.

As the level rose and both players traded blows in a tense deciding set, Sabalenka made the first moves, twice breaking ahead. But when she fell 2-4, Swiatek immediately clawed her way back into the match. She closed out her game, eliminating unforced errors, won Sabalenka’s first hit and went four games to win.

“I’m always hard on myself, but the last couple of days I’ve been grateful to have made it to this stage of the tournament,” he said.

Earlier in the evening, Garcia had arrived at Arthur Ashe Stadium as the heralded player of the summer. She had won 13 matches in a row dating back to her huge run to the title in Cincinnati from the qualifiers, with her success driven by her serve at an extremely high level and suffocating her opponents with relentless attack.

But much of Garcia’s career so far has been defined by her head. Unlike Jabeur, Garcia is streaky and her moments of elite play have come in short bursts. It was immediately clear that he was feeling the nerves of the occasion as he served in an error-ridden opening game.

Jabeur’s growing experience allowed her to handle the situation much better. She served incredibly well, constantly hitting her serves and exposing Garcia’s advanced return position. He peppered Garcia with slices and changes of pace, playing disciplined tennis as he gave away little.

Afterwards, Jabeur said it was a rare case where her coach, Issam Jellali, thought she had followed their plans to perfection and had nothing to say. As a result, Jabeur will return to the No. 2 ranking after the tournament.

“I feel like this final, I’m going full in, going for everything,” Jabeur said. “I’m definitely learning from the final in Rome, Madrid and others. But I feel very positive about it. The most important thing is to have no regrets, because I will give it my all. Even if that’s not going to happen, I’m pretty sure another one will come.”

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