Belarusian tennis star Aryna Sabalenka has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in a spectacular implosion against World No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the US Open semi-finals.
Sabalenka had made the Wimbledon and US Open finals in 2021 before she was banned from the All-England Club under the Russian ban due to the invasion of Ukraine and looked as though she was about to finally break her hoodoo.
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Sabalenka led 4-2 in the third set but lost the next four games straight as the two-time French Open champion booked a place in Sunday morning’s (Australian time) final against Ons Jabeur via the 3-6 6-1 6-4 result.
In an issue that ruined Sabalenka’s Australian summer, Sabalenka’s serve again went awry at the worst possible time.
After holding her first serve, Sabalenka broke, but was immediately broken back.
The next two service games went on serve before Sabalenka looked to have nailed the decisive blow to go up 4-2.
But not only did Sabalenka get broken on her next two service games, she won just one point in those games to collapse to the crushing loss.
Sabalenka was clearly distraught after the match.
The New York Times’ Christopher Clarey tweeted: “Aryna Sabalenka, still chasing her first major singles final, deeply disappointed and comes into press wearing mirrored sunglasses that she does not remove throughout the news conference or when she exits the room”.
Fans were of no doubt why after Sabalenka appeared certain to be going through to her maiden grand slam final.
Barstool Sports’ editor in chief Eric Hubbs tweeted: “BAD choke by Sabalenka in the 3rd. Iga vs. Ons for the title is awesome”.
After the match, Swiatek said an emergency bathroom break after losing the first set had been crucial.
“I kind of needed to go,” Swiatek said. “For sure I felt lighter. I’m sorry — that’s disgusting.
“I tried to use that time to think about what to change because I remember when I was younger all I would do in the bathroom between sets after I lost was cry.
“But this time I could think about what to change and actually problem solve.”
Sabalenka looked well placed to break her final duck as she swept into an early lead against the top seed.
The hard-hitting Sabalenka broke Swiatek three times in the opening set, rattling her opponent’s shaky service game and stretching her with an array of powerful groundstrokes.
But Swiatek looked rejuvenated after her bathroom break following the first set and came out for the second all guns blazing.
She broke Sabalenka to love in the opening game and then held twice for a 3-1 lead.
She sealed a further break with a backhand crosscourt return of serve to open up a 4-1 advantage as Sabalenka struggled to cope with the change in tempo.
She was broken again in the seventh game, Swiatek levelling the match after Sabalenka fluffed an easy volley at the net on set point.