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PREVIEW: 2023 WTA Tour – WTA Finals – Bacalar Group 2nd Matches

Damien Kayat previews Aryna Sabalenka vs Jessica Pegula and Elena Rybakina vs Maria Sakkari in 2nd matches (Bacalar Group) of the WTA Finals on the 1st of November 2023.

Jessica Pegula of the US

Damien Kayat previews Aryna Sabalenka vs Jessica Pegula and Elena Rybakina vs Maria Sakkari in 2nd matches (Bacalar Group) of the WTA Finals on the 1st of November 2023.

Jamie Moore's Diary - jockey talks Goshen and Ascot rides

2023 WTA Tour
WTA Finals
Plaza Quintana Roo, Cancun, Mexico (Outdoor Hardcourt)
Bacalar Group- 2nd Matches – 1st November

Aryna Sabalenka 57/100 | Jessica Pegula 27/20

World No.1 Aryan Sabalenka had her say on the seemingly haphazard arrangement of this year’s WTA Finals. She complained about the turf, saying it had inconsistent bounce and she battled with her footing. Not that it showed (she absolutely blew Maria Sakkari off the court with a ruthless display of power hitting).

That win was her 28th of the season against the other seven qualifiers here (one more than Swiatek). Her 6-0 first-set win was only the 3rd perfect opening frame at the WTA Finals since 2003. Sabalenka has enjoyed a remarkable season, claiming her maiden Grand Slam title in Melbourne and becoming a perennial presence at the business end of huge events.

Curiously, the Belarusian hasn’t actually won a title since claiming the WTA 1000 crown in Madrid. She suffered a heartbreaking defeat to Gauff in the US Open final and she will be determined to end this season as emphatically as she began it.

Sure, Jessica Pegula hasn’t managed to crack the Grand Slam code, unable to get over the psychological hurdle of the quarterfinal stage. But in terms of year-round consistency- Pegula has been pretty impressive this season.

She has reached eight semi-finals over the course of the campaign. This included a brilliant title-winning run in Montreal (the 2nd WTA 1000 title of her career). She actually came into this event in decent nick after winning the Korea Open. Her opening victory against Elena Rybakina extended her current winning-streak to six matches.

That victory over Rybakina will give the counterpunching American confidence that she can now handle the high-pressure situations. She went 0-6 in singles and doubles during last year’s WTA Finals and you feel like another loss would have completely rattled her self-belief.

But she remained patient against the big-serving Kazakh, absorbing her power and ultimately forcing Rybakina into an absolute plethora of unforced errors. In many ways, that match against Rybakina is the ideal preparation for this encounter.

Verdict: Sabalenka to win in straight-sets – 5/4

Sabalenka holds a commanding 4-1 head-to-head record against Pegula. In fact, the Belarusian has won their last four consecutive matches. Sabalenka looks to have a single-mined determination this week and I can see her romping home to victory against the more workmanlike Pegula.

Elena Rybakina 4/10 | Maria Sakkari 19/10

This has been a slightly schizophrenic season for 2022 Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina. She began the season in empathic style, reaching her 2nd Grand Slam final in Melbourne whilst winning WTA 1000 titles in Indian Wells and Rome.

Most commentators positioned her as a member of a new ‘Big-Three’ in women’s tennis (alongside Sabalenka and Swiatek). But some injury issues have meant that she hasn’t been quite as explosive in the 2nd half of the campaign. In fact, she hasn’t reached a final since claiming the title in Rome.

Still, the Kazakh has still managed to deliver some really consistent tennis. This included a solid semi-final run at the WTA 1000 event in Montreal. She came into this event in decent fettle following a semi-final run in China. And she started her opener against Pegula in dominant fashion, racing to a 5-3 lead in the first set.

But Pegula just stuck to her guns, forcing the Kazakh into a staggering 35 unforced errors in the match. Rybakina looked somewhat one-dimensional against the versatile American and she will need to address that if she wishes to proceed any further in this event.

Maria Sakkari has enjoyed a pretty erratic trip to her 3rd consecutive WTA Finals. She was knocked out in the first round of each of the last three Slams of the year. But she picked up a slew of decent results during the regular tour, slowly accumulating points through sheer consistency.

She then reached the final in Washington (ultimately going down to Gauff in the final). But she went on to break her six-match losing streak in WTA Finals, picking up her first title in nearly five years at the WTA 1000 event in Guadalajara.

Sakkari was stuck on one tour title for far too long and I was really happy for her as she conquered that hurdle. But that inconsistency came to the fore in her opener as she was absolutely blown off the court by Sabalenka. Sakkari will do well to remember her debut WTA Finals appearance in 2021.

She rallied after losing to Badosa in her opener, beating Swiatek and Sabalenka to reach the semi-finals. But she is going to need a huge turnaround in order to replicate that 2021 performance.

Verdict: Rybakina to win in straight-sets – 1/1

These two share the head-to-head spoils at one win apiece (Sakkari won their last meeting at last year’s Indian Wells event). I think the Kazakh star is going to rise to the occasion for this one. She struggled against the pugnacious Pegula, forced into long, attritional rallies that didn’t suit her.

This match-up is preferable for Rybakina. Sakkari looks to play a high-tempo style and I think Rybakina is more comfortable with that. She won’t have to generate too much of her own power and I think the unforced errors count will drop drastically.

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