By DAN IMHOFF
Aryna Sabalenka feels she might not even be in this situation – playing for a first career title against Carla Suarez Navarro – if not for a tardy mistake last month.
And Suarez Navarro would want to hope her opponent’s subsequent surge in form from said mistake does not carry into Saturday’s Connecticut Open final.
Turned out, a lesson in punctuality was just the wake-up call the 20-year-old Sabalenka needed.
After taking down the last-remaining seed, No.5 Julia Goerges, on Friday, the Belarusian improved her record on North American hard courts to 10-2 this summer. Her impressive run was no coincidence.
“I don't know. I just came for American series,” Sabalenka said. “Actually I started really bad in San Jose. I lose in the qualifying because I forgot to sign for [the] main draw.
“Doesn't matter… It makes me work more, even more than I worked before. I just came for the next one. OK, I said to myself, ‘Relax, just keep going, try to put every ball in’.”
She made the form reversal sound so simple. And she made it look that simple with her brutal demolition of Goerges.
Against Suarez Navarro, the contrasts are compelling.
At 6’0”, the athletically built Sabalenka is a fiery competitor, lambasting herself loudly for her misses, and able to cast aside disappointment when it comes to the crunch, rifling thunderous winners off both wings.
As one commentator noted, she is the complete package and there is a growing sense it is only time before the rising star does land the silverware on tour.
Suarez Navarro is eight inches shorter, nine years older and far less outwardly emotional on court.
The affable Spaniard was almost apologetic for reaching the final, having completed just one match – her first-round victory over Barbora Strycova.
Her second-round opponent, Johanna Konta, handed her a walkover, third seed Petra Kvitova retired with a left shoulder injury after dropping the first set and Monica Puig called time with an abdominal strain after just eight games in the semi-final.
Prior to her upset of Goerges, Sabalenka was on song in seeing off Belinda Bencic in the quarter-finals, after a torrid battle dethroning defending champion Daria Gavrilova in a “crazy” emotional second-round clash. Former US Open champion, Sam Stosur, managed just five games against her in the first round.
Suarez Navarro has just two titles to her name, the most recent of those coming in Doha 2.5 years ago. She is vastly more experienced, however, having reached six Grand Slam quarter-finals, as recently as this year’s Australian Open.
“I saw her from all this tournament,” Suarez Navarro said of Sabalenka. “She's having a really good summer. She beat a lot of top 10s, a lot of good players. She's with a lot of confidence.
Will be a really tough match. She plays aggressive. She serves good. I need to be focused. I need to be 100 per cent there.”
Three times already – twice this year – Sabalenka has fallen at the final hurdle. Win or lose on Saturday, she feels a treat may be in order.
“If I do well there, probably I will take something really bad, probably McDonald's or something else,” she laughed. “But if I lose it, I don't know, probably I will eat McDonald's too. I'll have some ice cream or something there.”
Czechs face late scratch pairing for doubles title
The women’s doubles final will pit top-seeded Czech duo, Andrea Sestini Hlavackova and Barbora Strycova against the unseeded Su-Wei Hsieh and Laura Sigemund.
Sestini Hlavackova/Strycova rebounded to land a 3-6, 6-3, 12-10 victory in Friday’s semi-final. They needed three match points to get the job done.
Former doubles No.1 Hsieh, of Chinese Taipei, and German Siegemund were a late replacement team for the main draw. They had played together just once before, in Brisbane last year, where they reached the semi-finals. Czech twins, Karoline and Krystina Pliskova handed them a walkover into Saturday’s final.