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Swiatek dominates Sabalenka to claim 3rd Italian Open title


ROME (AP) — If Iga Swiatek can keep up her form, it's hard to imagine anyone preventing her from winning a fourth French Open title.

The top-ranked Swiatek dominated in her latest meeting with No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, winning the Italian Open final 6-2, 6-3 on Saturday to earn her third trophy on Rome’s red clay.

Swiatek didn't drop a set at the Foro Italico and extended her tour winning streak to 12 matches. In the semifinals, she was almost as dominant in a 6-4, 6-3 win over No. 3 Coco Gauff.

Roland Garros starts next weekend and Swiatek will be aiming for a third straight title in Paris and fourth overall.

“Obviously I am confident. I feel like I’m playing great tennis,” Swiatek said. “But it doesn’t change the fact that I really want to stay humble and really focused on getting everything step by step. Grand Slams are different. There is different pressure on the court and off the court.

“These are hard seven matches that you need to win, so I don’t take anything for granted. I’ll just work hard as I did in Madrid and Rome and we’ll see.”

After congratulating Swiatek during the trophy ceremony, Sabalenka told her rival: “I hope we’re going to make it to the final in Roland Garros, and I’m going to get you there.”

Then Sabalenka added, “Just kidding. I’m just going to try to do better than today.”

During her speech, Swiatek replied, “We’ll see about that Roland Garros final.”

Swiatek became the first woman to complete the “dirt double” of winning Madrid and Rome back to back since Serena Williams in 2013.

The final was quite a contrast from when Swiatek had to save three match points before beating Sabalenka in a third-set tiebreaker in the Madrid Open final two weeks ago.

“Madrid, I didn’t feel like I could do everything. Here I kind of did,” Swiatek said. “I felt like I can really use this surface and this feeling to play even better.”

Swiatek applied so much pressure early on that Sabalenka slammed her racket onto the clay in the fourth game and then had to grab a new stick from her bag.

Even on points when the hard-hitting Sabalenka seemed in control, Swiatek used her superb footspeed and accurate groundstrokes to turn the dynamics around and force Sabalenka into errors.

“Her movement is incredible. You always know that you have to build the point and you have to finish the point,” Sabalenka said. “That’s why sometimes I try to overhit balls, knowing she’s going to get to it. ... She’s really good in every facet of the game.”

Sabalenka stepped up her game at the start of the second set but Swiatek saved seven break points in her opening two service games.

Swiatek produced only 11 winners to Sabalenka’s 18 but also had just eight unforced errors to Sabalenka's whopping 28.

Swiatek crushed a backhand return up the line on her second match point and when Sabalenka’s weak reply landed in the net, Swiatek dropped her white racket to the clay and then began jumping around in celebration after shaking hands with Sabalenka.

Adding to her titles from 2021 and 2022, Swiatek improved her career record in Rome to 20-2. At 22, the Polish player could approach the women’s record of five Italian Open titles held by Chris Evert.

Rafael Nadal, Swiatek’s idol, holds the overall record with 10 Rome trophies.

“If I win next time, there is going to be a tiramisu in here," Swiatek said as she took the lid off the trophy cup.

The men’s final on Sunday features 2017 champion Alexander Zverev against 24th-ranked Nicolas Jarry.

Swiatek also improved her career record against Sabalenka to 8-3. Swiatek has also won nine straight finals since she lost to Sabalenka in Madrid last year.

Sabalenka was slowed by a back issue.

“Probably in some points there was moments where I could push myself a little bit more but I didn’t want to get injured before Roland Garros,” she said. “It’s kind of like affecting you a little bit just by being there in the back of your mind. But I wouldn’t say I lost the match today because of my back.”

Swiatek earned a winner’s check of 699,690 euros (more than $750,000).

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