High-flying Hawks steal the show in Dubai

Rybakina outclassed Swiatek in a pivotal women's singles match


Leslie Wilson Jr

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Team Hawks celebrate with the cheque after winning the World Tennis League in Dubai. — Photo by Neeraj Murali.
Team Hawks celebrate with the cheque after winning the World Tennis League in Dubai. — Photo by Neeraj Murali.

Published: Sat 24 Dec 2022, 11:27 PM

A think-like-a-champion and play-like-a-champion mentality helped Elena Rybakina effortlessly outclass World No 1 Iga Swiatek in a pivotal women’s singles match that set up the Hawks victory over the Kites in the World Tennis League (WTA) finals on Saturday.

The winners will take home one million dirhams as prize money.

Rybakina, the reigning Wimbledon champion, needed less than 70 minutes on the custom-built hard-court at a packed Coca-Cola Arena to complete a 6-4 6-3 victory over Swiatek and secure the opening singles for the Hawks.

However, Felix Auger-Aliassime restored parity for the Kites when he overwhelmed Olympic gold medallist Alexander Zverev 6-4 6-3 in the men’s singles.

It was down to the mixed doubles to break the deadlock which Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Dominic Thiem succeeded in doing for the Hawks when they defeated Sania Mirza and Holger Rune 7-6

Despite the World Tennis League's exhibition status, tennis fans have been treated to six days of high-level tennis from some of the world’s best exponents of the game, which also featured 21-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, whose Falcons failed to reach the finals.

Fans celebrate Team Hawks' win. — Photo by Neeraj Murali
Fans celebrate Team Hawks' win. — Photo by Neeraj Murali

The standard of play in the women’s ranks was particularly eye-catching as demonstrated by Rybakina in Saturday’s marquee match.

Swiatek, a two-time Grand Slam winner in 2022, had not put a foot wrong all week, posting emphatic wins over the likes of Pavlyuchenkova (Hawks) 6-4 6-3, Caroline Garcia (Eagles) 6-3 6-4 and Aryna Sabalenka (Falcons) 6-1 6-3.

However, Swiatek was outclassed by the Wimbledon champion on Saturday, especially in the second set where the Polish talent could win only one game.

“I knew a lot depended on me, so I was well prepared,” said Rybakina who made history as the first player from Kazakhstan to win a Grand Slam this year.

“I’ve been happy with my form this week, as I stayed aggressive and took my chances, which is what I like doing. Obviously, Iga was not at her best today so I was able to capitalize and give my team a good start in the finals."

Rybakina, who was a gymnast and ice-skater as a youngster, treated tennis lovers with some of her now famous big serves which are capable of reaching 122 mph and which she used to good effect to repeatedly trouble the world number one.

After Rybakina scaled the heights for the Hawks, it was the turn of the exciting Canadian Auger-Aliassime to bring the Kites back on an even keel, with a solid display against the conqueror of Djokovic, ‘Sascha’ Zverev.

Auger-Aliassime, who reached a career-high No 6 and posted 60 wins during a breakthrough 2022 with the help of coaches Toni Nadal and Frederic Fontang, never looked short of ideas as he used a variation on his serve and groundstrokes to outwit Zverev, the Tokyo Olympic Games gold medallist and former Junior World No 1.

“I felt good on the court,” said the 22-year-old Auger-Aliassime who looks set to have a stellar season in 2023.

“I’ve been hitting the ball well and moving well. I feel one hundred percent fit and my confidence levels have never been higher.

“It’s a great way to end the year. This is a great concept and a tournament that is sure to only grow and get better and better.”

Meanwhile, Sania Mirza and Holger Rune, who looked like a hot pairing in their demolition of Paula Badosa and Grigor Dimitrov (Flacons) on Friday, fought hard against Pavlyuchenkova and Thiem before going down in two sets.



Hawks beat the Kites 2-1 (32–25)

Women’s singles

Elena Rybakina (Hawks) beat Iga Swiatek (Kites) 6-3 6-1 (WTA Points 12-4)

Men’s singles

Felix Auger-Aliassime (Kites) beat Alexander Zverev (Hawks) 6-4 6-3 (WTA Points 16-19)

Mixed doubles

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/ Dominic Thiem beat Sania Mirza/Holger Rune 7-6 6-3

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