She’s a cowgirl now – France’s Garcia wins WTA Finals at Dickies Arena

Caroline Garcia celebrates after defeating Aryna Sabalenka in the singles final at the WTA Finals tennis tournament at Dickies Arena. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Caroline Garcia plopped on a cowboy hat to go with the trophy she was holding after telling fans she had enjoyed her first trip to Texas.

There was plenty for the Frenchwoman to like in Fort Worth, the home of cowboys, culture and – now – women’s tennis.

Garcia took a tight first set Monday night at Dickies Arena and went on to a 7-6(4), 6-4 victory over Aryna Sabalenka in the championship match of the WTA Finals.

The sixth-ranked Garcia became the second player from France to win the season-ending event after Amelie Mauresmo in 2005, also the last time the WTA Finals were held in the U.S.

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Tied in the deciding game of a match with just one break point, Garcia’s service winner gave her a second chance to close it out. When Sabalenka sent a forehand long, Garcia dropped to the court on her back and put clenched fists over her eyes.

“It’s definitely a lot of joy and happiness,” Garcia said told reporters about an hour later, cowboy hat still on and with the trophy on a table just to her left. “It’s been a crazy, crazy final, a lot of intensity on every single point from the beginning.”

The event was moved to Texas from China over concerns about the safety of Peng Shuai, a Grand Slam doubles champion who accused a former government official there of sexual assault. Coronavirus restrictions also played a part in the decision.

Garcia won her last six sets after dropping the first in a winner-take-all match against Daria Kasatkina in group play. The 29-year-old is the oldest WTA Finals winner since Serena Williams at 33 in 2014.

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The only player to win titles on all three surfaces this season, Garcia was just as comfortable as Sabalenka on the temporary indoor hard court Dickies installed for the tournament’s first-ever visit to Texas and the first in the U.S. since 2005.

As a result, Garcia handed the No. 7 player from Belarus just her third loss in 12 career hard-court finals. The 24-year-old Sabalenka was trying to become the first from her country to win the WTA Finals.

“We did know that we were two powerful players, and I think we played that way,” Garcia said. “Just very happy about the mindset.”

The first set went to a tiebreaker without a break of serve in a meeting of the tour (Garcia) and tournament (Sabalenka) leaders in aces coming into the match.

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Garcia won six consecutive points in the tiebreaker, capped by her 10th ace of the first set for a 6-2 lead. Sabalenka’s third double fault ended the set. Garcia finished with 11 aces to four for Sabalenka.

Two break chances came quickly in the first game of the second set, but Garcia only needed one. She ripped a forehand winner down the line on Sabalenka’s serve to go in front for good.

“I just dropped my level for a little bit on the tiebreak and in the first game of the second set,” Sabalenka said. “That was the key moments.”

Sabalenka reached the title match by beating top-ranked Iga Swiatek. That semifinal victory ended a 15-match winning streak against top-10 opponents that was the longest on tour in 35 years.

Going into the WTA Finals, Garcia was the only entrant in the eight-player field to beat Swiatek — but was ranked 45th when she did it at the Poland Open in July. Garcia went on to her best Grand Slam finish, reaching the semifinals at the U.S. Open.

“I’m impressed with what she’s done this season,” Sabalenka said. “I think there’s many more finals for her. Hopefully we’ll play against each other in the finals, and hopefully I will win the next one.”

Garcia’s fourth victory of the season, second only to Swiatek’s eight, came in the second 6-7 meeting in WTA Finals history. The other was Maria Sharapova-Serena Williams in 2004.

Veronika Kudermetova and Elise Mertens beat defending champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova 6-2, 4-6, 11-9 to win the doubles title.

Kudermetova and Mertens won six consecutive points after falling behind 7-2 in the champions tiebreaker before closing things out on their second match point.

Krejcikova and Siniakova were trying to finish off a dominant season that included titles at all three of the Grand Slam events in which they competed. It was just the fourth loss of the season for the Czech duo, which was trying to become the seventh doubles team to defend a WTA Finals championship.

Kudermetova and Mertens avenged a loss to Krejcikova and Siniakova in the Australian Open semifinals.

Mertens is a three-time major winner in doubles, including the 2019 U.S. Open and 2021 Australian Open with Sabalenka.