After a week of delightful volatility, the Qatar TotalEnergies Open final features two predictable combatants, more than familiar with each other.

World No.1 Iga Swiatek faces No.4 Elena Rybakina on Saturday to decide the season’s first Hologic WTA Tour 1000 event. And while Swiatek is angling for her 12th consecutive match win in Doha -- and third straight title -- history says Rybakina has much more than a fighting chance.

Going 3-0 against Swiatek in a single season? That's a statement.

Last year, Rybakina prevailed in straight sets on the hard courts of the Australian Open and Indian Wells, as well as the clay of the Italian Open. There’s an asterisk -- Swiatek retired with a thigh injury with the score 2-6, 7-6 (3), 2-2. But Rybakina, who has a thumping game better suited to fast hard courts (and the grass at Wimbledon), held her own on the cloying clay.

This is relevant because the surface in Doha is considered slow by hard court standards. It agrees splendidly with Swiatek’s skill set; three of the events she’s won more than once (Paris, Rome, Stuttgart) are played on clay. The other is Doha.

“It is a challenge,” Swiatek told reporters. “She’s a great player, really solid. I mean, what can I say?”

As it turns out, WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen and Greg Garber have a lot to say about Saturday's final, which begins at 6:00 p.m.

The case for Swiatek

If a player is lucky, there are some weeks when the conditions are set up so perfectly it's as though she installed the court herself. She can play freely and naturally, anticipating every shot and bounce as if she's played on that court a thousand times before. Winning is never easy, but it can certainly look it.

It's not just that Swiatek wins in Doha -- she's running an 11-match win streak at the Khalifa International Tennis Complex -- she's barely losing games. Last year she dropped five games. This year, she's lost 11 across her three matches. In the six sets she's won this week, she lost more than a single game just twice. She has won 20 consecutive sets.

Now she's a win from becoming the first player to win a single event three consecutive years since Serena Williams dominated Miami from 2013 to 2015. 

All of Swiatek's Doha mojo will be put to the test against, arguably, her toughest rival in the Top 5. Rybakina's flat forehand and pinpoint serving were a tough puzzle to solve last year. And there's no doubt Rybakina is surfing a tidal wave of confidence. She leads the tour in wins and if she beats Swiatek, she'll be the first to three titles this year.

But this isn't the Swiatek of 2023. She's better. The biggest improvement has been the serve. While she may never match Rybakina in the ace column, the World No.1 is posting serving numbers that are right on par with Rybakina, if not better. It's a big reason she's lost just one match all season.

1st Serves Won (In Doha / 2024 Season)
Swiatek: 75.7% / 70.0%
Rybakina: 74.4% / 71.8%

2nd Serves Won (In Doha / 2024 Season)
Swiatek: 56.8% / 54.5%
Rybakina: 50.6% / 52.0%

Service Games Won (In Doha / 2024 Season)
Swiatek: 95.8% / 85.0%
Rybakina: 87.5% / 83.7%

Going into the final, Swiatek sits at No.2 in Service Games Won on tour behind only Sabalenka. And when you can roll through your service games, you're more inclined to swing freely on return. That's a frightening prospect given she has led the tour in Return Games Won over the last two seasons.

Now she's lethal on both sides of the ball. Only Swiatek and Sabalenka are ranked in the Top 10 on tour in both Service Games Won and Return Games Won.

That's a big shift in Swiatek's game. In her loss to Rybakina at the Australian Open last year, she won just 57% of her first and second-serve points. In their rematch two months later at Indian Wells, Swiatek did worse, winning 43% of her first-serve points and 46% of her second-serve points.

Those numbers are a far cry from what she's been putting up to start this year. That's why I give her the edge. -- Courtney Nguyen

- Insights from
elena rybakina
More Head to Head
66.7% Win 4
- Matches Played
33.3% Win 2
iga swiatek

The case for Rybakina

Let’s review the 24-year-old’s ridiculous start to 2024: She’s already won 15 of 17 matches, two titles and finds herself in a third final. And, it’s worth noting, those two losses came under extenuating circumstances.

The first, to Ekaterina Alexandrova, came in the Adelaide quarterfinals with the Australian Open looming and Rybakina in danger of overextending herself after winning the title in Brisbane the week before. The second? To Anna Blinkova in the second round at Melbourne. Rybakina said later she was feeling under the weather but, nevertheless, battled into a third-set tiebreaker. Blinkova needed a historic effort to pull off the upset. 

I understand, Courtney, that Swiatek has been playing lights out in Doha. She’s also got the distinct advantage of getting a walkover into the final after Karolina Pliskova withdrew due to a painful back due to playing nine matches in 10 days. Oh, and as you astutely pointed out, she leads the tournament in virtually every statistical category.

But … I think the head-to-head more than compensates for all that. And there’s this: Since the beginning of last year, Rybakina leads all players with 31 wins in WTA 1000 events -- Swiatek has 30. One of those wins came over Swiatek in the Indian Wells semifinals. It ended Swiatek's title defense.

Indian Wells: Rybakina ends Swiatek's title defense with semifinal win

Rybakina has won eight straight matches, going back to the title in Abu Dhabi. In an emphatic 6-2, 6-4 win over good friend Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Rybakina only served three aces, but saved eight of nine break points. She also had 27 winners and 39 unforced errors, something she’ll have to clean up against Swiatek.

“First I will try to recover because today was a tough match -- I played so many matches also before,” Rybakina said in her on-court interview. “Most important to recover, but she’s a great champion so it’s going to be very difficult. I will try to enjoy and do as much as I can tomorrow.” -- Greg Garber