CANCUN, Mexico -- World No.1 Aryna Sabalenka eased past No.8 seed Maria Sakkari to win her round-robin opener at the GNP Seguros WTA Finals Cancun. In the 10th meeting between the familiar rivals, Sabalenka needed 74 minutes to win 6-0, 6-1.
The victory moved Sabalenka to the top of the Bacalar Group at 1-0 alongside No.5 Jessica Pegula, who won her opener against Elena Rybakina in straight sets.
Sabalenka came into the match with a 6-3 advantage in the head-to-head, including a 2-0 record this season. But Sakkari owned a 2-0 record against Sabalenka at the WTA Finals, having notched victories in Guadalajara and Fort Worth.
3 - After having faced each other in Guadalajara 2021 and Fort Worth 2022, Aryna Sabalenka and Maria Sakkari will be the first players to meet at the WTA Finals for 3 consecutive seasons since Petra Kvitova - Agnieszka Radwanska (2013-2015). Usual.#WTAFinals | @WTA @WTA_insider— OptaAce (@OptaAce) October 29, 2023
The stakes are high for Sabalenka this week. A runner-up last year, Sabalenka has a chance to become the first player to make back-to-back finals at the year-end championships since Serena Williams in 2013 and 2014. She is also working to hold off Iga Swiatek and finish the year as the 16th WTA year-end No.1.
"You don't have to overdo things here in the Finals," Sabalenka said before the tournament. "It's just another tournament, yet in a different format. You just have to focus on yourself and try to do your best."
Sure enough, Sabalenka played her tournament opener with no signs of nerves or pressure. After saving four break points to hold to 3-0, Sabalenka pocketed the first set in just 37 minutes and handed Sakkari her first 6-0 whitewash of the season. The last time the Greek dropped a 6-0 set came at 2022 Adelaide.
"I wasn't nervous before the match to be deadly honest, I was pretty relaxed," Sakkari said. "I just haven't been feeling my game so well, maybe because I had too much time off after China and not too many days on the court since I came back. Maybe that's a factor. I don't know."
"I think it was pretty obvious that I was not feeling my game, not feeling comfortable out there. Just a very, very bad day in the
office, and hopefully it's gonna get better for Tuesday."
Sabalenka continued her contained aggression through the second set to earn three match points at 6-0, 5-0. But Sakkari wiped out the No.1's chances and held serve to get on the board. Sabalenka was undeterred, holding at love and punctuating her win with her fourth ace of the night.
"The score looks really easy, but it wasn't an easy match," Sabalenka said. "I'm super happy to win this match, especially against Maria, someone who was such a big fighter and all these tough matches against her."