Garcia Comes Up Clutch In Fort Worth, Wins WTA Finals

Caroline Garcia (photo: WTA Tour video)

FORT WORTH/WASHINGTON, November 8, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

On the biggest night in women’s tennis, Caroline Garcia of France came up clutch with an amazing performance that was also filled with an amazing display of emotion to win the WTA Finals singles title Monday night at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.

The biggest title in the 29-year-old Garcia’s career was the reward for holding her nerve and playing her best tennis when it mattered the most. At the conclusion of the one-hour, 41-minute title final, the sixth-ranked Garcia defeated World No. 7 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, 7-6 (4), 6-4. The victory was the Frenchwoman’s 43rd of the season, and she won $1.57 million and 1,375 WTA Rankings points, too. It was her fourth title triumph of the season – all on different surfaces as well as both outside and inside – to go with earlier crowning achievements in Bad Homburg, Warsaw and Cincinnati. It was her 11th title overall.

Garcia (43-20), who finished as one of the hottest players on the WTA Tour in the second half of the season, going from being ranked No. 79 in June to World No. 4 – equaling a career best – after winning the WTA Finals title, fired 11 aces. Also, she committed just one double fault, won 71 percent of her service points, faced no break points, and struck 24 winners. Garcia outpointed Sabalenka 68-63.

”Today was an amazing final, so much intensity on every single point,” Garcia said in her trophy ceremony speech.

Later, during her post-match interview with Tennis Channel, Garcia was asked what she was most proud of in her championship victory. She answered: “I’m very proud of how I kept my mind focused one point at a time, one game at a time. … I managed my emotions one point at a time and it made a difference.”

Meanwhile, in her post-match press conference, Sabalenka, who finished 2022 with a 33-22 record, said: “I dropped my level for a little bit. On the tie-break and the first game of the second set and that’s it. 

“I did my best today. She played unbelievable tennis.”

Garcia struck first by winning the 55-minute opening set in a tie-break 7-4 after Sabalenka brutally double-faulted set point – her third serving miscue of the match and second of the tie-break. It moved Garcia, who began the tie-break down 0-2, to within a set of her biggest career title. The Frenchwoman fired 10 aces, made just one double fault and lost just five points behind her first serve. It put her a set away from becoming the second Frenchwoman to win the WTA Finals following Amelie Mauresmo in 2005.

Then, Garcia immediately broke Sabalenka to open the second set and consolidated it for a 2-0 advantage. It was the first and only break point for either player – coming more than an hour into the final – and it seemed to give Garcia extra confidence in her ability to manage the pressure of the moment, while at the same time Sabalenka started to dip.

By mid-set, Garcia maintained the break advantage, ahead 4-2, on the strength of 23 winners while winning more than 80 percent of her first serves. Soon, with no other service breaks or break chances, Garcia found herself serving for the championship at 5-4 – and remained steady to the finish. She won on her second championship point after Sabalenka killed a four-shot rally by hitting a forehand long.

Upon winning, Garcia fell on her back and covered her face with her hands in a happy moment of celebration. Finally, She was able to let her emotions show. In contrast, Sabalenka pounded her racquet in frustration. Soon, after the two met at the net to exchange congratulations, Garcia raced to continue her celebration with her family and team, who were sitting court side. As for Sabalenka, she sat alone on her bench with a towel draped over her head sobbing uncontrollably.

Garcia became the eighth different winner of the WTA Finals in the past eight years. She’s also the third French player in the past 45 years to win four or more titles in a single season, following Mary Pierce (1998) and Mauresmo, who achieved the feat four times (2001, 2004, 2005, 2006).

Looking back on Monday evening, in which Garcia became the WTA year-end champion, she seized the day and the moment. The Frenchwoman from Saint-Germain-en-Laye did everything so well – and even received a nifty cowboy hat along with her champion’s trophy. She truly cowboyed up in Texas.

How Garcia and Sabalenka arrived in the title match

On Sunday, Garcia raced to a 6-3, 6-2 semifinal victory over World No. 5 Maria Sakkari to reach the championship of The WTA Finals for the first time. In the other semifinal, Sabalenka upset World No. 1 and top-seeded Iga Swiatek, 6-2, 2-6, 6-1, in two hours and eight minutes, which ended the Polish star’s remarkable 2022 season: 67-9 win-loss record, eight titles including two Grand Slams and four WTA 1000s, a 37-match winning streak, and second-most year-end ranking points earned.

Garcia, a 5-foot-10 former World No. 4, reached the biggest final of her career, with her win over an in-form Sakkari in which she served six aces and struck 21 winners during the 75-minute match. She came out of the Tracy Austin Group 2-1 with wins over Coco Gauff and Daria Kasatkina.

“I’m five years older and maybe five years wiser,” an excited Garcia said in her on-court interview afterward. “You try to learn from everything. We got some tough experiences the last couple years, but I’ve got a big team behind me and supporting me, staying positive even when I was negative about myself. It’s definitely a great year. A lot of things happened that I didn’t think would happen!”

After dealing with injuries and inconsistent performances since her 2017 breakout season, Garcia put it all together this season. Coming into the WTA Finals, she won three titles – including a WTA 1000 at the Western & Southern Open near Cincinnati – and her ranking skyrocketed. S he was a semifinalist in a major for the first time at the US Open and this season she was the WTA Tour service aces leader.

This week in Fort Worth, she showed no signs of year-end fatigue that has befallen others. Both her serving and receiving games were steady and she held her nerves in check, too.

Meanwhile, Sabalenka snapped Swiatek’s seven-match win streak on Sunday to reach the biggest final of her career. She became the fourth woman to beat the Top Three players at the same tournament – No. 1 Swiatek, No. 2 Ons Jabeur and No. 3 Jessica Pegula, a feat previously achieved by Steffi Graf in 1999 (French Open), Serena Williams in 2002 (Miami Open), and Venus Williams in 2008 (WTA Finals).

“I gave her a lot of easy matches this season, and I think that’s enough for her,” Sabalenka said afterwards in commenting on her win over Swiatek. “I wanted to make sure that, every time she plays against me, she knows she has to work hard to get a win. It was only because of this thinking that I was able to play such an amazing level tonight.”

Kudermetova and Mertens win WTA Finals doubles championship

It’s only fitting that the two unbeaten teams at the WTA Finals squared off in the championship match Monday evening. Defending champions and this year’s top seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, both of the Czech Republic, faced down No. 4 seeds Veronika Kudermetova of Russia and Elise Mertens of Belgium, whom they beat earlier this season in the Australian Open semifinals. To the winners would go the Martina Navratilova Trophy presented by the Hall of Famer, who won 31 major women’s doubles titles.

The title tussle came down to a match tie-break after the teams traded sets – and Kudermetova and Mertens overcame a 7-2 deficit to win it 11-9 and with it the match, 6-2, 4-6, 11-9, in an hour and 42 minutes. The Russian-Belgian duo won on their second championship point opportunity after a Mertens return forced Krejcikova to hit a volley wide.

During a post-match interview with Tennis Channel, the winners were asked what turned things around for them when they were trailing by five points in the match tie-break. “I don’t know,” Mertens said. “Actually, we kept believing [in ourselves]. We did really well in the important points. I mean, [Veronika] played amazing at the end. I was just like ‘Oh, my god, I just got to keep the ball in.’

“Throughout the whole week, we had a really good dynamic. Every match we stepped on court to win it, but also, we had positive energy. It really helped.”

Kudermetova added: “We stayed positive throughout the whole match. It’s the last match of the season and I wanted to win it. … I am super happy to end the season with this beautiful trophy.”

Both teams came out of group play undefeated and won their semifinal matches in straight sets. Monday night, Kudermetova and Mertens, who lost just one set in their WTA Finals team debut, found a way to win the title match. They saved three of five break points they faced and converted three of three break points against the Czechs, who outpointed Kudermetova and Mertens 60-56.

Mertens was on the losing side of last year’s final teamed with Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan, while Kudermetova was making her WTA Finals debut. It was the second title overall this season for Kudermetova and Mertens, who won their first as a team at Dubai last February.

Despite the disappointment of losing – the third time they’ve been in the WTA Finals championship match – Krejcikova and Siniakova won three major titles this season: the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. They were 22-0 across this year’s Grand Slams and WTA Finals. Monday’s loss was just their fourth all season. Siniakova will finish the season as year-end No. 1 for the second straight season.

The last team to successfully defend their WTA Finals doubles title was Timea Babos of Hungary and Kristina Mladenovic of France (2018-19). Siniakova will finish the season as year-end No. 1 for the second straight season and third time in five years, while Kudermetova, who is ranked No. 9 in singles, is projected to rise from No. 5 to No. 2. Mertens, a former World No. 1 in doubles, is projected to jump from No. 9 to No. 5.

By the numbers

According to the WTA Insider, Caroline Garcia became the first Frenchwoman to win eight or more matches against Top 10 opponents in a year since Amelie Mauresmo in 2006. Her Top 10 wins: Iga Swiatek, Maria Sakkari (twice), Jessica Pegula, Aryna Sabalenka (twice), Coco Gauff and Daria Kasatkina.

“Quotable …”

“I don’t want to focus on the ranking because I know I can improve everywhere. Next year, I will try to focus, like every day I need to work, I need to improve. And, if I will work, keep working like that, I think I will be goo, go higher.”

Veronika Kudermetova of Russia on being ranked in the Top 10 in both singles and doubles.