The week in tennis: Iga Swiatek dominates, Jannik Sinner reaches new heights and more

Tennis

Iga Swiatek might be best known for her prowess on the clay and at Roland Garros, but it’s Doha where she has become virtually unbeatable.

The world No. 1 has now claimed the title in the Qatar capital for three consecutive years. With her 7-6 (8), 6-2 victory over Elena Rybakina on Saturday in the final, she became the first player to win the Doha title more than twice and the first woman to win a singles title at an event in three straight years since Serena Williams did so in Miami from 2013 to 2015.

Swiatek later confessed to reporters that she was unaware of the significance of securing her Doha hat trick but still couldn’t hide her enthusiasm about the achievement.

“I never really thought of myself as a record-breaker,” Swiatek, 22, said. “You know, I already did a couple of records. It’s been amazing. But honestly, I don’t even know what records are there, because I think everybody is just talking about Serena and the Slams, you know.

“But I never really followed the other ones, but this was kind of cool. I never knew that it’s so special to win three times in a row. But I would say that it happens when you actually don’t know about it, so I don’t aim to break any records. I’m just playing tennis, and that’s all.”

Records aside, it was a dominant week for Swiatek in her first tournament since her surprise third-round exit at the Australian Open last month. She didn’t drop a set — and lost just 11 total games — as she cruised into her first final of the season. But during the final, against the red-hot Rybakina, Swiatek initially seemed to struggle with her opponent’s big hitting and the gusty conditions. She went down a double break, 4-1, in the opening set before seizing momentum following a medical timeout from Rybakina after she inadvertently cut her leg with her racket. Swiatek won the match in 2 hours and 19 minutes and secured her first title of the season, as well as her seventh at an 1000-level tournament and 18th overall.

Here’s what else you might have missed from around the tennis world last week:

Sinner, Sinner (Winner, Winner)

Some players struggle after winning their first major title. But the same most certainly cannot be said for Jannik Sinner.

Playing in his first tournament since winning the title at the Australian Open last month, Sinner rolled into the final at Rotterdam on Sunday where he defeated Alex de Minaur, 7-5, 6-4, to claim his second title of 2024. Despite squandering a break advantage in both sets, Sinner hit 23 winners and found a way to secure his 12th career title and seventh win (in seven matches) over de Minaur.

“I asked him jokingly if he’s going to lose a match this year,” de Minaur said after the match. “He’s playing [at] an incredible level and just too good.”

Sinner, 22, improved to 12-0 on the year and has a career-high ranking of No. 3 — becoming the highest-ranked Italian player in ATP history.

Delray Beach defense mission

Nothing could stand in the way of Taylor Fritz successfully defending his title at Delray Beach — not even a full-day rain delay, which pushed the final to Monday.

After a strong week at the Florida tournament, top-seeded Fritz faced his longtime friend and fellow American Tommy Paul, who had won the title in Dallas last week, in the final. Despite intense winds, and a surging opponent in Paul, Fritz left little to chance throughout the match. He took control early and held off Paul’s continued attempts at a comeback to clinch the victory 6-2, 6-3. Fritz has now won his past six final-round matches and owns seven ATP titles overall.

And if back-to-back titles at the 250-level tournament wasn’t enough proof of Fritz’s dominance at the event, perhaps the fact that he’s dropped just one set combined during both championship runs might convince you.

Hometown hero

Winning an ATP (or WTA) tournament is a dream come true for most players, but not only did Facundo Diaz Acosta earn his first ATP title on Sunday, he did so at his home tournament.

But that’s only part of what makes his story a real-life fairy tale.

Playing as a wild card at the Argentina Open, the 23-year-old Argentine had just four tour-level wins entering the event. But he somehow put together five consecutive victories throughout the week in Buenos Aires and never dropped a set. In Sunday’s final, Diaz Acosta defeated No. 3 seed Nicolas Jarry 6-3, 6-4, in front of a raucous and adoring home crowd. His reaction after the final point — and the ovation from those packed in the stands — truly said it all.

“I am very happy to be able to lift this trophy,” Diaz Acosta said after the win. “I think I played a great match, as I did all week, but I still can’t figure out how I won the tournament without losing sets.”

Diaz Acosta, who was ranked a then-best No. 87 entering the tournament, improves to No. 59 following the title and will look to build on his momentum at this week’s Rio Open.

Road warrior

Former world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova had to withdraw ahead of her semifinal match against Swiatek on Friday due to an injury, but what she managed to do over the past two weeks still very much deserves to be highlighted.

The 31-year-old won the title at the Transylvania Open — her first in four years — on Feb. 11, and then immediately got on a private jet to Istanbul. From there, according to her interview with Sky Sports, she had to run to catch her flight to Doha, which she narrowly made. She managed to get about three hours of sleep once arriving early Monday morning and then was back on the court for her opening-round match against Anna Kalinskaya — less than 24 hours removed and over 2,000 miles away from her final in Romania.

Despite the additional change of going from an indoor court to an outdoor one, she somehow won that match, and then her next three, including over Naomi Osaka 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), in the quarterfinals. While she did ultimately have to withdraw before the semis, her ranking rose from No. 78 to No. 36 all in a matter of two weeks, and she proved she is very much back and still capable of big wins and titles.

Rafa watch

Fans of Rafael Nadal will have to keep waiting for the return of the 22-time major champion as he announced he would not be able to play in this week’s tournament in Doha. He had previously expressed his goal of participating at the event after withdrawing from the Australian Open last month.

“Unfortunately I am not ready to compete,” Nadal wrote on social media on Wednesday.

The 37-year-old missed most of the 2023 season due to a hip injury. He returned in Brisbane last month, where he reached the quarterfinals, but then was unable to play at the Australian Open due to a micro tear on a muscle. He had been posting updates on social media about his progress and appeared on the Doha entry list so it looked as if his return to competition was imminent. Nadal said he is now targeting an exhibition event on March 3 against Carlos Alcaraz for his return, followed by Indian Wells. Stay tuned.

End of an era

Another week, another high-profile coaching change. A week after both Jessica Pegula and Holger Rune parted ways with their respective coaches, Maria Sakkari followed suit and ended her highly successful six-year partnership with Tom Hill.

During their time together, Sakkari reached two major semifinals, won an 1000-level title at Guadalajara and reached a career-high ranking of No. 3. But it’s been a rough stretch for the 28-year-old and she hasn’t advanced past the second round of a Slam since the 2023 Australian Open. She is currently on a three-match losing streak and dropped out of the top 10 for the first time since 2021 on Monday.

Sakkari announced the change with an Instagram post on Thursday and she thanked Hill for their time together and what they had achieved.

“Thank you for all the emotions, the support on and off the court, and the belief you had in me since day one,” Sakkari wrote. “We grew together, and you helped me realize that everything is possible. Not only did you make me a better tennis player, but you also made me a better person.

“Thank you for always wanting the best for me and for always having my back!”

Hill responded with an equally gracious post of his own in which he called Sakkari “not only an incredible athlete but a great person” and said their partnership had been “an absolute privilege.”

Respect. Gratitude. Kindness. Here’s to hoping all players and coaches are taking notes because this is how such an announcement should be done.

Not the best week for Greek tennis

In related news, Sakkari’s fellow Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas also exited the top 10 this week for the first time since 2019. Tsitsipas, 25, has been a staple atop the rankings since 2019 but dropped to No. 11 following de Minaur’s win over Grigor Dimitrov in the Rotterdam semifinals on Saturday.

Tsitsipas hasn’t played since his fourth-round exit at the Australian Open but is back in action this week in Los Cabos. And while Tsitsipas’ exile from the top 10 could be brief, his departure still marks the first time in ATP rankings history — which began in 1973 — in which there is no player in the top 10 with a one-handed backhand.

While Tsitsipas or fellow one-handed backhander Dimitrov could crack the top 10 in the near future and reverse this, it still certainly indicates the endangerment of the beloved shot. If this makes you sad, or if you’re not sure of why this matters, below is a video compilation of some of the best in the game in recent years.

Brooksby’s back

Jenson Brooksby‘s “nightmare” ordeal, in which he was banned from competition for 18 months after missing three drug tests in the span of a year, is ending early. Originally suspended until January 2025, the 23-year-old American had his punishment reduced and will now be allowed to return to the court on March 3.

The International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) announced the change Thursday, citing “new information relating to the circumstances giving rise to the missed tests” provided by Brooksby’s team. The ITIA said it had reduced the ban from 18 months to 13 months and would retroactively backdate it to the date of his third missed test.

“It gives me tremendous joy and relief that I can get back to doing what I love,” Brooksby wrote on Instagram soon after. “The last 13 months have been exhausting and a nightmare I don’t wish on anyone.”

Once ranked as high as No. 33, Brooksby has not played since the 2023 Australian Open. He has not yet announced which tournament will be the site of his official comeback.

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