Ons Jabeur faces Jessica Pegula, and Maria Sakkari takes on Aryna Sabalenka in the round-robin phase of the 2022 WTA Finals. Damien Kayat previews.
2022 WTA Tour
Dickies Arena, Fort Worth, USA
Group Nancey Richey Round-Robin Matches
Ons Jabeur 89/100 | Jessica Pegula 89/100
Ons Jabeur hasn’t had the greatest luck in terms of this event. Last year Anett Kontaveit went on the most unbelievable run to pip the Tunisian to the final WTA Finals berth.
And now the Tunisian lost her maiden WTA Finals match from what seemed to be a virtually unassailable position against Aryna Sabalenka. Jabeur ultimately committed too many errors and only won 51% of her second-serve points.
Perhaps it was a case of nerves for the popular Tunisian. She will need to rectify that quickly if she wishes to progress further in this season-ending showcase.
The defeat took her season record to an excellent 46-16. She has barely played any tennis since losing the US Open final, failing to progress very far in her home tournament in Monastir.
But the Tunisian is nothing if not a fighter. A two-time beaten finalist in Grand Slam tennis this year, Jabeur has consistently shone on the biggest stage this year.
She reached further finals in Charleston and Rome and was the champion in Berlin and Madrid. She has what it takes to turn this around.
Jessica Pegula has enjoyed an amazingly consistent year that has seen her rise to number 3 in the world rankings. She reached the quarterfinals in three of the four Slams.
And- aside from Swiatek- she has probably been the outstanding player in WTA 1000 tennis this year. She reached the semi-finals in Miami and Toronto and the final in Madrid.
She also entered this event fresh off an incredible maiden WTA 1000 victory in Guadalajara. She actually came into this event after winning ten consecutive sets against top-quality players.
But she didn’t look quite herself in her first match against Sakkari. Sure, it was a tight game. But she consistently erred in the crucial moments. She served more double-faults than aces in the match.
She also only hit 22 winners in comparison to 28 unforced errors. That is far more error-strewn than what you would ordinarily expect from the consistent Pegula. Perhaps she will feel slightly more at ease in her second match (this is her maiden WTA Finals appearance after all).
Verdict: Jabeur to win in three sets 36/10
On the surface, it would appear that these two have a very tight rivalry (with Jabeur leading Pegula 3-2). But look closer. The Tunisian has won their last three consecutive matches (including two this year).
I expect a big bounce back from Jabeur. Pegula looked a little leggy against Sakkari and may be feeling the effects of a long, successful campaign.
Maria Sakkari 6/10 | Aryna Sabalenka 5/4
27-year-old Greek Maria Sakkari has had a strange campaign characterized by wild fluctuations in form. She reached finals in St Peterburg and Indian Wells before a huge downturn in form.
In fact, she won fewer than 50% of her matches between that Indian Wells success and the conclusion of the US Open. And she endured a poor year in Grand Slam tennis (which must have been bitterly disappointing following two semi-final appearances last year).
But a late-season surge was enough for her to eek out the last place in this year’s WTA Finals. She reached the finals in Parma and Guadalajara (making it four finals without a title this year).
She avenged her Guadalajara defeat to Jessica Pegula with a gutsy opening win this week. You have to remember that Sakkari actually had to complete her semi-final clash against Bouzkova on the same day as that final.
She said she was completely out of gas for the championship match. She looked far more up to the task this week, engaging in punishing rallies with the pugnacious Pegula.
They would ultimately win 52 points each in an even match that tilted towards Sakkari in key moments. The big-hitting Greek reached the semi-final in her WTA Finals debut last year and she clearly loves this dynamic format.
Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka has really had to fight some demons this year en route to her second consecutive WTA Finals. She started the year completely out of sorts.
It was actually a minor miracle that she reached the 4th round of the Aussie Open. Her serve was practically non-existent (she served nearly 40 double-faults in her first two matches this season). In fact, she entered the WTA Finals having served 398 double-faults throughout the year.
It wasn’t until the clay-court season (oddly enough) that Sabalenka’s charge started to take shape. She reached the final in Stuttgart and the semis in Rome.
She would later go on to reach her third Grand Slam semi-final at Flushing Meadows. Sabalenka showed tremendous powers of determination to come back from a set down against Ons Jabeur.
She actually played controlled tennis, forcing Jabeur to push too hard. She won 61.5% of her second-serve points, showcasing just how far her service delivery has improved this year.
Verdict: Sabalenka to win in straight-sets 27/20
Sabalenka actually holds a fairly commanding 4-2 head-to-head record against Sakkari. The Greek won their last match during the round-robin stage of last year’s WTA Finals.
But the Belarusian won the previous four encounters. I just feel that Sabalenka is out to prove a point at this year’s finals. She is oft-maligned for not really capitalizing on the big stage. Sakkari also scrapped through against a fairly underwhelming Pegula.