Caroline Garcia is one win away from the biggest title of her career…
The 29-year-old part-Spanish French tennis player, who reached the WTA Finals semifinals five years ago, has taken it to the next level.
Garcia defeated in-form Maria Sakkari, 6-3, 6-2, on Sunday to reach the biggest final of her career against Aryna Sabalenka.
“I’m five years older and maybe five years wiser,” she quipped on court after the match. “You try to learn from everything. We got some tough experiences the last couple years, but I’ve got a big team behind me and supporting me, staying positive even when I was negative about myself. It’s definitely a great year. A lot of things happened that I didn’t think would happen!”
The former world No. 4 dealt with years of injuries and inconsistencies following her 2017 peak, but made a steady-to-meteoric rise in 2022. She won three titles to return to the world’s Top 8 and at last fulfill her presaged potential with a 75-minute win on the WTA Finals Stadium Court, striking 21 winners and six aces.
As an unheralded teenager, she famously earned a ringing endorsement from Andy Murray as he watched Garcia nearly stun Maria Sharapova at the 2011 French Open, and as she has unconsciously spent her career striving to meet Murray’s lofty prediction, the tennis world has long swung from earnest to derisive in its repetition of that sporting myth.
Garcia never looked farther from that goal post at the start of this season when she took an extended absence to heal niggling injuries, but she emerged a fresh, hyper-aggressive athlete who took the racquet out of opponents’ hands. The dividends were small at first, earning her a pair of WTA 250 titles in the summer, but it all came together just before the US Open—ironically when she last played Sakkari.
Garcia was ranked No. 79 in May; she is tentatively set to end the season at her career-high of No. 4.
Garcia has typically met her Greek rival under auspicious circumstances; in their two previous meetings, the Frenchwoman has gone on to win the tournament—most recently at the Western & Southern Open, where she won her first WTA 1000 title since 2017.
The Cincy surge brought Garcia’s 2022 to another level, setting the stage for a first Grand Slam semifinal at the US Open, and though the fall initially brought more mixed fortunes, she was able to peak again for her first WTA Finals appearance in five years. Garcia shook off a shock split with Perret to win two of her three round-robin matches, including a three-set epic against No. 8 seed Daria Kasatkina to confirm her berth in the semifinals, and showed no signs of fatigue from the onset against Sakkari, breaking first in the opening set.
“Yesterday, I was obviously a little bit tired, but nothing unusual after such a big match,” she said. “This morning, the legs were a little big heavy but I was just so excited about the emotions and the win of yesterday, and just to be playing a semifinal of the WTA Finals. I was just so excited and feeling very pumped. I spoke to my physio and said, ‘I just hope I last long enough to get to the match!'”
Sakkari had been even more impressive in her second straight WTA Finals appearance, even if it took until the last week of the season to book her ticket to Fort Worth. The two-time Grand Slam semifinalist won all three of her round-robin matches in straight sets, inspired by the slow Dickies Arena court to employ her most aggressive style.
But in a battle of aggressive players, Garcia will almost always win; she strikes an intimidating pose on both serve and return, stepping deep into the court for the latter. Though Sakkari briefly got the match back on serve, Sakkari struck back with another break at love and won seven of the next eight games to lead by a set and two breaks.
As Sakkari struggled to get on the board, the nerves that have so often haunted Garcia in big matches threatened to crop up when a double fault pulled up break point. Refusing to abandon her game plan, the 2022 Ace Leader went just as big on the next serve and struck a backhand down the line to move within a game of the final.
No such nerves returned when it came time to serve for the match: she crashed the net to bring up three match points and though Sakkari saved one with a backhand winner, Garcia pressed one last error from the No. 5 seed to earn her spot in the final.