Świątek goes back to back in Stuttgart

By Simone Kemler and Vanessa Taylor

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The Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart gave us an encore of last’s year’s final featuring Aryna Sabalenka and the champion Iga Świątek.

The tournament grew out of a four-player gala held in Filderstadt, 12 kilometres south of the capital Stuttgart. That was 1997 and the event has progressed through a tournament the following year to a small WTA tournament and now a WTA 500 with a singles draw of 32.

Since 2009, the Porsche Tennis GP has been played indoor on clay. This year, the women played on three portable courts that introduced a new technology from the Hungarian company Rebound Sports. This development accords with the tournament’s motto of “Less is More” and its message of sustainability as these court structures can be reused every year.

The red brick based clay does not need watering, adding to its environmental credentials. After its use at the tournament, the clay will be donated to tennis clubs in Hungary.

The new Stuttgart court after the final. Photo: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

Around the grounds, sustainability was also a foremost consideration. Even in the VIP area, the traditional oysters and caviar were eschewed in favour of local fine foods.

Amid the dominant colours; black, orange and silver, of the exteriors, other forms of tennis could be played by fans.

This year, the tournament introduced a second-tier ticket, similar to a ground pass at a grand slam. With this ticket, fans could enjoy the public village and the première opening of Racquet Sport World. Even tournament director Markus Günthardt, a Swiss former pro tennis player, played a few points of Padel. Tennis, badminton, table tennis and touchtennis plus soccer were also on offer.

The aptly named touchtennis – to play you must use a certain touch with the strong foamed plastic ball – was heavily promoted at the tournament. Utilising smaller, childsize racquets and a reduced court, it is played on the same surfaces as traditional tennis.

Markus Günthardt and Anke Huber. Photo: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

Günthardt and director Anke Huber, former world No. 4 and now the sports director of the Porsche Tennis GP, hope that including these opportunities at the Racquet Sport World will increase dwindling tennis club involvement in Germany.

For other fans who watched the main tournament, the pleasure came from some excellent tennis as Sabalenka and Świątek paved their way to the final.

Following a bye, Sabalenka had an easy 2 & 3 win over Barbora Krejčíková. But she got a work out against Paula Badosa, who’d lost only a total of five games in her matches with 7th seed Daria Kasatkina and fellow Spaniard Cristina Bucșa.

Paula Badosa playing Aryna Sabalenka. Photo: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

Badosa’s pushed Sabalenka in their quarter final. She served the better to take the first set 6-4. The players exchanged breaks in the second set before Sabalenka got an extra break and took it 6-4.

The third set was a real tussle. Twice Sabalenka broke to lead only to have Badosa fight her way back.

In the end, Sabalenka got the match points she needed as she broke for another 6-4 result.

Her semi against Anastasia Potapova must have been a relief. She won 1 & 2 in an hour to reach her third consecutive Stuttgart final.

Aryna Sabalenka on her way to the final. Photo: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

The defending champion Świątek started her campaign with a straight sets win over Qinwen Zheng, who didn’t give herself a chance with 31 unforced errors.

In her next match, against Karolina Plíšková, she began poorly. A forehand long, a double fault and an unhelpful let cord which bounced out, saw her down 0-40.

Plíšková rushed ahead 3-0 with another let cord point. But Świątek’s serve started working and eventually she made it to 4-5. Plíšková resolved to hold for 6-4.

The second set went in a breeze to Świątek as her opponent committed three times as many unforced errors. The momentum stayed with her in the final set for 6-2. Plíšková did herself a disservice with 11 double faults for the match.

Iga Świątek playing in Stuttgart. Photo: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

Like Sabalenka, Świątek had an easy semi-final, though for a different reason. Ons Jabeur hit a flashing cross court passing shot for the first point but that was her only powerful moment. After losing the first game, she walked gingerly across the baseline and limped to her chair. She clutched at her calf, which appeared to be cramping (it turned out to be a tear).

Returning to the court with heavy strapping, Jabeur lost her serve. Although she could still use her touch and managed some successful drop shots, her footwork and running were obviously affected. She shook her head forlornly as Świątek went up 3-0. After further treatment, she retired.

Świątek went over to her chair to inquire about the injury and the two chatted.

Graciously, Jabeur gave an on court interview, saying through tears, “I’m sorry guys, I really tried. The third point, I don’t know what happened.”

The capacity crowd cheered warmly as she limped off supported by the trainer.   

Iga Świątek supports Ons Jabeur after her retirement.
Photo: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

So the world No. 1 and 2 met in a final for the first time this year.

Sabalenka took time to settle as she missed two backhands down the line before making one to hold serve.

As Świątek led 4-3, Sabalenka double faulted to offer a break point. She hit a massive kicking serve that Świątek somehow reached up for and lassoed down the line for a remarkable winner. The first set went to her 6-3.

Again, Sabalenka served a double fault, both wild serves, which allowed her opponent to break. That was all it took for the set to proceed to a 6-4 finish and the larger trophy for Świątek.

The three-time runner up got a sustained ovation at the presentation. She said “Enjoy the car” to Świątek, who received a shiny new Porsche as part of her prize, before adding, “…I’ll be coming back till I get the car…probably in 10 years, 20 years, I’ll get this car.”

After the presentation was over, Sabalenka good humouredly pretended to smash her trophy through the rear window.

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