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Caroline Wozniacki vs Aryna Sabalenka WTA Eastbourne tennis live: Wozniacki should be too steady for first-time Nature Valley International finalist Sabalenka

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 29 Jun 2018
  • Caroline Wozniacki faces Aryna Sabalenka in the final of the Nature Valley International
  • Wozniacki vs Sabalenka tennis is live from Eastbourne on Saturday at 12.30pm BST
Caroline Wozniacki (GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

Caroline Wozniacki is out to reclaim the WTA Eastbourne title nine years after first winning it as she faces first-time finalist Aryna Sabalenka in the title match at the Nature Valley International.

After saving two match points to make it into her second consecutive Nature Valley International final, Caroline Wozniacki takes on Aryna Sabalenka, the powerful Belarusian having a breakthrough week, for the prestigious Eastbourne title.

The Wimbledon draw is out and main-draw play at the third Grand Slam of the year is just two days away – and indeed, both Wozniacki and Sabalenka, who are in the bottom half of the draw, will be playing at The Championships on Monday – but first there is the not-at-all trivial matter of one of the WTA’s most illustrious Premier titles to be decided.

Wozniacki is looking to reclaim the WTA Eastbourne trophy nine years after she won it for the first time back in 2009, defeating Virginie Razzano in the final. Wozniacki has barely missed a year at Devonshire Park since and has a stellar record at the tournament, making the semifinals in 2013, 2014 and 2015, but it took until 2017 for her to get back to the final – and that ended in defeat at the hands of Karolina Pliskova in straight sets.

Now a Grand Slam champion after breaking through at the Australian Open and in contention to retake the world no. 1 ranking from Simona Halep once again at Wimbledon, Wozniacki has rarely had more reason to feel confident. Although Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam where Wozniacki has never made the quarterfinals, she clearly loves the conditions in Eastbourne – which can definitely frustrate some players, especially the wind – and has beaten some very good opponents to make her first final since reaching back-to-back title matches at the ASB Classic in Auckland and at the Australian Open. Camila Giorgi, 2017 Wimbledon semifinalist Johanna Konta and Nottingham champion Ashleigh Barty have all found themselves unable to defeat the top seed (only Konta taking a set), and even Angelique Kerber on stellar form was unable to halt Wozniacki’s progress – although she threatened it severely.

Wozniacki and Kerber, both supremely gifted players when it comes to movement and defense, have had some major tussles in the past and Wozniacki tailed 6-8 in the head-to-head coming into this one, having also lost their only previous grass-court encounter (a mesmerizing Eastbourne semifinal in 2014). Kerber dominated the first set in this year’s encounter and although Wozniacki went up a break in the second, she was unable to maintain her advantage. The German served for the match at 6-5 in the second set but Wozniacki saved two match points, the second with a dazzling, lengthy rally in which she soaked up everything Kerber could throw at her before showcasing her improved forehand to turn the tables on the left-hander. Wozniacki went on to win the second-set tie break and then the third set, looking by far the more solid and confident player down the stretch even as Kerber kept battling and closing out a 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 victory.

If Wozniacki’s week has been a story of ever-more confident performances, Aryna Sabalenka’s has been all about living dangerously.

Aryna Sabalenka (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images for LTA)
Sabalenka, just 20 years old, was many people’s pick to make a major move upwards in the rankings in 2018 after the powerful Belarusian’s performances in Fed Cup, scoring wins over Sloane Stephens and Viktorija Golubic, drew attention. But Sabalenka also recorded a number of strong ITF and WTA results throughout 2017, culminating in making her first WTA Tour final at the International-level Tianjin event where she lost a tight match to Maria Sharapova, and a victorious run at the WTA 125 event in Mumbai, breaking into the top 100 as a result.

So far in 2018 Sabalenka has kept rising to break into the top 50 and will be ranked inside the top 35 after her run in Eastbourne. Quarterfinals in Shenzhen and Hobart to start the season were followed by a third-round appearance at Indian Wells and a second WTA Tour final in Lugano where Sabalenka finished runner-up to Elise Mertens. The rest of the clay-court season would not go smoothly, but upon transitioning to grass Sabalenka immediately made her fourth WTA quarterfinal of 2018 in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and she has been on tremendous form in Eastbourne, beating lucky loser Sachia Vickery, sixth seed Julia Goerges, ninth seed Elise Mertens, second seed Karolina Pliskova and finally former Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska to make the third, and biggest, WTA Tour final of her career.

Every match Sabalenka has played in Eastbourne has gone to three sets and her duel with Radwanska was no exception as the Belarusian battled to subdue the crafty Pole as well as her own errors, eventually leveraging her superior explosive power for a 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 victory.

‘It’s not easy to play against players like Agnieszka, because she’s so good,’ Sabalenka said afterwards. ‘She puts all the balls in, and she can read the game, like I said yesterday. I’m so happy that I did it finally.’

In many ways, playing Radwanska will have been perfect preparation for a first meeting with the similarly defensively-gifted Wozniacki on Saturday.

‘When I was growing up, I was watching their games,’ Sabalenka said of Wozniacki and Kerber. 

‘I remember one situation with Wozniacki, she was running and put all the balls in, it was the longest point I’ve ever seen! It will be interesting. I’m really waiting for tomorrow’s match, because growing up, I didn’t think I would play against them, and tomorrow, it’s a good way to find out how to win [against] them.’

Impressive as Sabalenka is with her power off the ground, her willingness to throw in a drop shot or two and her all-out aggression, this looks to me like Wozniacki’s moment to reclaim the title in Eastbourne. Wozniacki will track down at least as many balls as Radwanska, who has newly returned from injury, and as matters stand now, the Dane is much better at both counter-attacking and straight-up attacking. Unless Sabalenka delivers an extremely confident, accurate performance, she will find herself on the back foot all too often, and she can’t win from there. 

Wozniacki vs Sabalenka tennis is live from Eastbourne on Saturday at 12.30pm BST

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Caroline Wozniacki vs Aryna Sabalenka WTA Eastbourne tennis live: Wozniacki should be too steady for first-time Nature Valley International finalist Sabalenka

Caroline Wozniacki looks to reclaim the WTA Eastbourne title nine years after she won it first as she takes on 20-year-old powerhouse Aryna Sabalenka: Nature Valley International tennis live from Eastbourne

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