Cowboy Up: Garcia wins WTA Finals over Sabalenka in Texas

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Caroline Garcia donned a cowboy hat to accompany the trophy she was holding after telling fans she enjoyed her first trip to Texas.

The French woman liked many things in Cowtown.

Garcia grabbed a tight first set and cruised to a 7-6(4), 6-4 win over Aryna Sabalenka to win the WTA Finals championship on Monday night.

Ranked sixth, Garcia became only the second player from France to win the season-ending event after Amelie Mauresmo in 2005, also the last time the WTA Finals were held in the US.

Drawn in the deciding game of a match with just one break point, Garcia’s service winner gave her a second chance to close out the match. When Sabalenka sent a long forehand, Garcia fell to the court on his back and covered his eyes with clenched fists.

“It’s definitely a lot of joy and happiness,” Garcia told reporters about an hour later, his cowboy hat still on and the trophy on a table just to his left. “It’s been a crazy, crazy final, a lot of intensity at every point from the start.”

The event was moved to Texas from China due to concerns about the safety of Peng Shuai, a Grand Slam doubles champion who has accused a former government official there of sexual assault. Coronavirus restrictions also played a role in the decision.

Garcia won her last six sets after losing the first in a winner-take-all match against Daria Kasatkina in the group stage. The 29-year-old is the oldest WTA Finals winner since Serena Williams at 33 in 2014.

Garcia, the only player to win titles on all three surfaces this season, felt as comfortable as Sabalenka on the temporary indoor hard court at Dickies Arena near downtown Fort Worth.

As a result, Garcia handed the No. 7 player from Belarus only her third loss in 12 career hard-court finals. Sabalenka, 24, was trying to become the first from her country to win the WTA Finals.

“We knew we were two powerful players, and I think we played that way,” Garcia said. “Just very happy with the mentality.”

The first set went to a tie break without service break in a match of the tour (García) and the tournament (Sabalenka) leaders in aces that reached the match.

Garcia won six straight points in the tie break, capped by his 10th ace of the first set for a 6-2 lead. Sabalenka’s third double fault ended the set. Garcia finished with 11 aces to four for Sabalenka.

Two break chances came quickly in the first game of the second set, but Garcia only needed one. He landed a forehand winner down the line on Sabalenka’s serve to put himself in front for good.

“I lowered my level a bit in the tiebreak and in the first game of the second set,” Sabalenka said. “Those were the key moments.”

Sabalenka entered the title fight by beating top-ranked Iga Swiatek. That semifinal win ended a 15-fight win streak against top-10 opponents that was the longest on tour in 35 years.

Coming into the WTA Finals, Garcia was the only participant in the eight-player field to beat Swiatek, but was ranked 45th when she did so at the Polish Open in July. Garcia achieved the best Grand Slam result of hers, reaching the semifinals at the US Open.

“I am impressed with what he has done this season,” Sabalenka said. “I think there are many more finals for her. Hopefully we’ll play against each other in the final, and hopefully I’ll win the next one.”

Garcia’s fourth win of the season, second only to Swiatek’s eight, came in the second 6-7 meeting in WTA Finals history. The other was Maria Sharapova-Serena Williams in 2004.

Veronika Kudermetova and Elise Mertens defeated defending champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova 6-2, 4-6, 11-9 to win the doubles title.

Kudermetova and Mertens won six straight points after falling 7-2 in the champions tiebreak before closing things out on their second match point.

Krejcikova and Siniakova were trying to wrap up a dominant season that included titles at all three Grand Slam events they competed in. It was only the fourth loss of the season for the Czech duo, who were attempting to become only the seventh doubles team to defend a WTA Finals championship.

Kudermetova and Mertens avenged a loss to Krejcikova and Siniakova in the Australian Open semifinals.

Mertens is a three-time Grand Slam doubles winner, including the 2019 US Open and 2021 Australian Open with Sabalenka.

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