A rain-delayed victory in the WTA final has put Aryna Sabalenka on the verge of moving to No. 1 in the tour rankings at season’s end.
Top seed Sabalenka won 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 against fourth-seeded Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan to secure a spot in the semifinals in Cancún, Mexico.
Should Sabalenka beat second seed Iga Świątek of Poland, the Belarusian would be certain to end the year at the top of the rankings.
Sabalenka, the reigning Australian Open champion, finished with a 2-1 record in the Bacalar group, finishing second behind fifth seed Jessica Pegula (3-0). In the other semifinal, Pegula and third-place Coco Gauff compete in an all-American duel.
In the final two games of the Chetumal group, Świątek ended a 3-0 run by defeating sixth-seeded Ons Jabeur of Tunisia 6-1, 6-2. Gauff finished second in the group by securing a 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-3 win over seventh-seeded Markéta Vondroušová of the Czech Republic.
Rybakina lost two of her three games and finished third in the Chetumal group with a score of 1-2. Maria Sakkari from Greece, seeded number eight, ended 0-3.
Sabalenka was leading Rybakina 6-2, 3-5 when play was suspended on Thursday. Rybakina closed out the second set, but Sabalenka broke serve to open the third set and was not challenged after that.
“It was a really tough fight in really difficult conditions,” Sabalenka said. “I’m super happy that I was definitely able to achieve this victory.”
Gauff won only one of 11 points on her second serve in the first set against Vondroušová and only 39 percent of her service points overall before her game picked up steam.
Gauff ultimately took the win despite committing 38 unforced errors to Vondroušová’s 25, a difference that was not offset by Gauff’s 31-25 margin of victory.
“I felt like I had to hit through the field,” Gauff said. “She is a very tricky player. If you play her tempo and let her move back and forth, it’s difficult. And I played them, it’s my third time, so I know that.
“But with the wind it’s obviously difficult to be as aggressive as you want because the jumps are weird and the ball is moving. So I’m glad I made this adjustment and didn’t get too frustrated when I missed it. They pay the price for hopefully a good reward.”
Pegula has a 2-1 lead in head-to-head matches against Gauff, although the pair have split two games this year. Świątek and Sabalenka also have two games separated in 2023, giving Świątek a 5-3 advantage in his career.