NEW YORK -- World No.1 Iga Swiatek and No.5 Ons Jabeur have been the two best players of the 2022 season. On Saturday at the US Open, they'll battle it out for the final Grand Slam title of the season.
Swiatek and Jabeur sit at Nos.1 and No.2 in the Race to the WTA Finals Leaderboard, and they will leave New York at the top of the Hologic WTA Tour Rankings, with Jabeur set to return to her career-high No.2 spot. In addition to leading the tour in match-wins, Swiatek and Jabeur are the only women to make two major finals this season.
Swiatek and Jabeur have split their four previous meetings, with Swiatek winning their last match. In their only match this season, Swiatek defeated Jabeur 6-2, 6-2 in the Rome final.
Who has the edge on Sunday? WTA Insider breaks down the five key elements of their games.
Swiatek: Holding serve has been a relative struggle for Swiatek in New York. She's won 68% of her service games, down from her season average of 72%. In her past three rounds, against Jule Niemeier, Jessica Pegula and Sabalenka, she was broken a total of 16 times. She battled through those matches thanks to her returning, breaking 21 times. But more on that later.
Jabeur: The Tunisian is coming into the final off her best serving performance of the season. To snap Caroline Garcia's 13-match winning streak, Jabeur fired eight aces and did not face a break point for the first time this season.
The performance was less an anomaly and more of a trend for Jabeur, who has fired a tournament-best 34 aces in New York and won 73% of her service games. Her first-serve placement has been key. Jabeur has done a great job of keeping her opponents guessing, resulting in a 73% success rate when her first serve lands. In contrast, Swiatek has won 62% of her first-serve points.
Swiatek: This is where the Pole excels. Swiatek has spent most of the season breaking serve over 50% of the time, and she's been outperforming herself in New York. She has broken serve in 58% of her return games in New York -- up from her season average of 52% -- breaking in 35 of 60 games. When Swiatek beat Jabeur 6-2, 6-2 in the Rome final this year, she broke serve five times.
Jabeur: The key for Jabeur has been making her opponents play. She has landed 84% of her returns against some of the best servers in the game, including Caroline Garcia in the semifinals and Veronika Kudermetova in the fourth round. She's not breaking at Swiatek's rate, but at 48%, Jabeur has been very difficult to get past.
Swiatek: The French Open champion has yet to play a match in New York where she finished with more winners than unforced errors. That's unusual for the typically rock-solid Swiatek, but it's also not surprising given how much lip service she's paid to the lighter US Open balls. With her western grip, the quick courts, and the lighter balls, controlling her forehand has been a tough task. She has hit 118 winners to 167 unforced errors in the tournament, with 90 of those errors coming on the forehand side.
"On clay, you know, I feel just perfect," Swiatek said. "But for me actually winning when I'm not feeling perfectly, it's the best kind of thing and the best feeling."
Jabeur: With each match, Jabeur has improved and cleaned up her game. She has hit 159 winners to 161 unforced errors and her variety has left her opponents befuddled. While Swiatek won their only match this year, on the clay in Rome, when these two have played on quicker, low-bouncing courts, in Cincinnati and Wimbledon last year, Jabeur has been able to keep Swiatek off balance.
"I just feel like now I can do whatever I can do and what I want to do on the court, which is surprising for me and I surprise myself so many times," Jabeur said.
Swiatek: Just ask Niemeier, Pegula and Sabalenka how hard it is to get a ball past Swiatek. As much as her season has been about improving her aggression off the ground, Swiatek's game is still built on a solid foundation of speed, athleticism and indefatigable defense. In the quarterfinals, Pegula led 3-0, 30-0 in the first set. Swiatek made two unforced errors for the rest of the set. Sabalenka had a 2-0 lead in the third set and ultimately buckled to Swiatek's unrelenting defensive pressure.
Jabeur: Swiatek may have the reputation, but the numbers lean toward Jabeur. Despite playing more long rallies than Swiatek this tournament, Jabeur has posted solid numbers when points go long. She has won half of the rallies that go past nine shots (49 of 98) compared to 42% for Swiatek (29 of 69). Jabeur may not match Swiatek's speed, but her anticipation is fantastic.
Swiatek: Already a two-time major champion at 21 years old, Swiatek's record in finals has become a remarkable stat. Since losing her first final at 2019 Lugano, Swiatek has not lost a set in a tournament final. She has won her past nine -- 18 consecutive sets -- and only two of those were at events below a WTA 1000 or Grand Slam level. In 15 of those 18 sets, she conceded no more than three games.
In New York, Swiatek has won her six matches more on grit and guile. While some see that as a criticism, Swiatek should see it as a flex. She came into the US Open with tempered expectations, convincing herself that she's an underdog and quieted the doubts, both external and internal.
Jabeur: If there is one thing we've learned about Jabeur in 2022 it's that failure quickly leads to success. A heartbreaking loss in the Charleston final was answered with a Madrid title. Her shocking first-round exit at Roland Garros was met by an 11-match win streak on grass and a Wimbledon final.
Jabeur learned a lot about herself and the moment in that final, which she lost in three sets to Elena Rybakina. The experience of managing the roiling cauldron of pressure at a Slam has been met with a business-like march in New York. And let's not forget, these conditions favor Jabeur more than they do Swiatek.