The world’s eight best tennis players have been whittled down to just two at the WTA Finals, with Poland’s Iga Świątek and US star Jessica Pegula facing off in Monday’s rain-delayed final for a chance to win the prestigious season-ending title.
The final was originally scheduled to take place on Sunday, but the WTA’s last-minute decision to host the Finals in Cancún, Mexico during rainy season backfired after bad weather during the semifinal between Świątek and Aryna Sabalenka on Saturday meant the match didn’t finish until the following day.
Cancún was chosen as the host city less than two months before the start of the Finals, a tournament that only the world’s top eight singles players and top eight doubles pairs qualify for.
There have been a number of complaints from tennis stars during the tournament, with Sabalenka the first to voice her displeasure by saying she felt “disrespected” by the level of organization and the “unsafe” standard of the courts.
Tennis legend Martina Navratilova told Amazon Prime that “maybe it’s time for new leadership” at the head of the WTA, with the organization’s chief Steve Simon coming under increasing pressure.
“The WTA was founded by players aiming to unite all of women’s professional tennis into one tour, and players have always been equal decision-makers to ensure a strong direction for women’s tennis,” the organization said in a statement to CNN.
“The strength of the voices of the players … have helped usher in dramatic growth for the Tour and helped the WTA deliver an increase of $400 million in compensation to players over the next 10 years, maintaining the WTA’s position as the leading women’s sports organization globally.
“We’re proud of these efforts and also know there is more work to do. Changes can take time, but everything we do is a direct result of collaboration and open dialogue.
“As we’ve shared with players, the WTA is actively implementing specific improvements, and we are committed to reviewing proposals from players while maintaining a strong future for the Tour and women’s tennis.”
In an open letter to the players leaked to Sports Illustrated, Simon said the decision to select Cancún as the host venue was “based on a number of complicated factors.”
“It is clear you are not happy with the decision to be here in Cancún,” the letter read. “I understand that and you have been heard.
“It is not a perfect event, we understand the conditions are a challenge and the WTA accepts responsibility for that.”
On the court, Świątek can secure the year-end world No. 1 ranking with victory over Pegula. If she loses, however, Sabalenka will end the year as the world’s top-ranked player for the first time in her career.
Both players were totally dominant in their immensely impressive semifinal victories, Świątek beating world No. 2 Sabalenka and Pegula dismantling doubles partner Coco Gauff.
Świątek currently owns a 5-3 head-to-head lead over Pegula, but the American came out on top the last time the two faced off in the Canadian Open semifinals in August.
In fact, Pegula can boast a winning 2-1 record over Świątek in 2023 and if she can extend that on Monday, she will become the first player since the WTA rankings were first published in 1975 to beat the world No. 1, No, 2, No. 3 and No. 4 in the same tournament, according to Opta.
“Obviously, with Iga, I think having two wins over her this year is going to give me a lot of confidence,” Pegula told reporters, per the WTA.
“But I think she’s someone where when she’s hot, she can kind of steamroll everybody and I feel like that’s what she’s doing right now.”
After losing all three of her Finals matches in 2022, Pegula has returned this year with a vengeance and is yet to drop a set en route the final. The 29-year-old is now just one win away from the biggest title of her career.
But Świątek has once again enjoyed a stunning season, winning more matches (67) and more titles (5) than any other player on tour, per the WTA.
Though Świątek will no doubt be the favorite ahead of the match, the four-time grand slam champion knows just how dangerous her opponent – who won the Korea Open ahead of these Finals – can be.
“She’s just solid, really good at everything,” Swiatek said, per the WTA. “Also, I think she’s mature and uses that. But I know what I can do. I’ll be ready.”
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