World number one Iga Swiatek rallied from a set down to beat Aryna Sabalenka 3-6 6-1 6-4 and reach a first US Open final against Ons Jabeur on Saturday.
After a sluggish start, the Pole came back in the second set and overcame an early break in the decider by winning the final four games to see off the powerful Belarusian.
“Against Aryna you have to have the energy to push her back and be able to play those fast balls,” Swiatek said in an on-court interview.
“In the first set I lacked a little bit of that so I needed to get it together. Drink some energy shots and just kind of go with it. I’m pretty glad that I did that.”
A game-changing bathroom break after the first set also helped.
“I kind of needed to go. For sure I felt lighter. I’m sorry, that’s disgusting,” she said with a laugh.
“I just tried to use that time and think about what to change. I remember that when I was younger, all I would do in the bathroom between sets when I lost was cry. This time I was able to problem solve.”
With the win, Swiatek became the first Polish woman to reach the US Open final, and there she will face Jabeur, who became the first North African woman of the Open era to do the same earlier in the day.
Both Swiatek and Sabalenka came out tense under the lights on Thursday but the sixth seed settled in first, finding a service rhythm and dialing in her forehand against Swiatek, who has struggled at times in the past against big hitters.
Sabalenka consolidated a break with an ace for 4-2 and captured the first set when she snuck to the net behind a huge forehand and sent a volley past the charging Swiatek.
But Swiatek, who was forced to battle back from a set down in her fourth-round match against Jule Niemeier, raised her level in the second, serving much better and breaking Sabalenka three times to level the contest.
Sabalenka responded early in the third, her confidence growing when her blistering backhand knocked her opponent backwards and onto the court as she raced out to a 2-0 lead.
But the feisty Swiatek refused to give in, breaking back with a backhand winner to level at 4-4, and advanced to her first final in Flushing Meadows when Sabalenka’s backhand landed in the net.
Sabalenka, who lost all of her slam matches this year after being up a set and who was unable to compete at Wimbledon after organisers banned players from Russia and Belarus due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, said she was proud of her fight.
“Going here to U.S. Open, didn’t really expect any wins,” she told reporters.
“But I made it. I really start playing better and I feel it and I just have to keep going, keep trying, keep fighting, keep doing my best. I think things will go better.”
The two-time French Open champion Swiatek will gun for her third Grand Slam title when she faces dynamic Tunisian Jabeur, who cruised to her semi-final with a straight sets win over Caroline Garcia.
Swiatek and Jabeur are 2-2 in their four career meetings.
“It’s always tough and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be physical,” Swiatek said of Jabeur.
“She has such good hands, she is solid on the baseline and when she’s going in so I have to be careful.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. Right now, I’m just going to enjoy being in the final.”
Jabeur wins in straight sets
Jabeur secured a 6-1 6-3 win over Garcia, ending the Frenchwoman’s hot streak to reach her second Grand Slam final in a row.
The Tunisian became the first African woman to reach the New York final in the open era.
The fifth seed wrested the momentum immediately, breaking Garcia in the first game before taking the first set in a blistering 23 minutes, with six aces and 11 winners.
Garcia upped her level in the second set but was without one of the most reliable tools in her arsenal, her big serve, and handed Jabeur the break with a clumsy unforced backhand error in the fourth game.
“(My coach) told me to really play her backhand because she was very dominant with her forehand,” Jabeur told reporters. “Tactically, I think I played really well.”
Jabeur, who became the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam final at Wimbledon this year and is known as Tunisia’s “Minister of Happiness”, sank to her knees and emitted a huge roar of delight after she sent an unreturnable serve over the net for the win.
“Great game for me,” she said. “I know she was very confident so I had to really impose my game from the beginning, and it was working very well until the end of the match.”
Jabeur had a rocky run-up to the year’s final major, exiting early from San Jose and retiring in her Toronto opener with abdominal pain, but was all smiles in the Arthur Ashe Stadium, where she has emerged as a crowd favorite.
Learning lessons from her loss to Elena Rybakina in the final at the All England Club, she told reporters she’s prepared to go all the way.
“I’m definitely going to think about that and think about how I played and the emotions and focus more I think on following tactically my coach,” she said.
“It’s always nice to stick with the same plan. You know, when you get stressed sometimes, you just don’t know how to think. I think that I’m going to use it very well.”
Garcia, who mounted an extraordinary career comeback this year after returning from a foot injury in May ranked 79th, said she was “stressed out” for the entire tournament and struggled to get her legs moving against Jabeur.
“There is still a lot of positives to take: semi-final here, big jump in the ranking. I know where I was standing few months back, few years back. So let’s take the positive,” she said.