Iga Swiatek of TSL Hawks in action against Elena Rybakina of HonorX Falcons in the World Tennis League at the Etihad Arena , Yas Island, in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Courtesy: WTL

Abu Dhabi: The Meteora World Tennis League, dubbed as the Greatest Show on Court, lived up to the expectations when world No 1 Iga Swiatek underlined her status as the top women’s player with a victory over Elena Rybakina at the Etihad Arena on Thursday.

The opening day began with the HonorFX Falcons soaring high against the TSL Hawks, but Casper Ruud’s dominating win over Taylor Fritz reduced the margin between the teams and it was left to Swiatek to make amends.

Kites’ Aryna Sabalenka and Paula Badosa celebrate a point against PBG Eagles’ Sofia Kenin and Mirra Andreeva in the second match. Image Credit: WTL

The Pole, who might not have the courage to go on the fastest roller-coaster in Abu Dhabi, but showed enough stomach for a fight after starting her preseason training recently.

Her game went up and down during the course of the day, showing shades of her brilliance in patches amidst many unforced errors. But the world No 1 Pole saved her best for Rybakina and won the set 6-4 to bring Hawks level on points with Falcons. Rybakina won the super tiebreaker 10-8 to give Falcons a 27-24 advantage.

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“This tournament gives me the opportunity to implement what I have been practicing during the preseason against the best players here,” the 22-year-old Pole told Gulf News. “I played well against Rybakina and I felt it is something like what we have experienced in the WTA Tour. So pretty nice.”

Swiatek, who will be celebrating Christmas with her family here in Abu Dhabi, is not ready to put herself under any pressure in 2024, even though she will be beginning the new year as the world No 1 player. “I am just focusing on the tournaments in Australia, because the season is long and a lot of things can happen. So I’m just visually seeing how I am going to implement the things I practice everyday during the first two tournaments of the season and not thinking more right now,” she added.

Swiatek might not be inclined to put herself under pressure and wants to take it easy, but the race for the top in the WTA Tour is pretty close.

HonorFX Falcons’ Elena Rybakina and Sorana Cirstea during their match against Iga Swiatek and Caroline Garcia of TSL Hawks. Image Credit: WTL

Consistent level

Unlike the men’s tennis where Novak Djokovic has won three of the four Grand Slams this year, four different players — Aryna Sabalenka (US Open), Swiatek (French Open), Marketa Vondrousova (Wimbledon) and Coca Gauff (US Open) — won four different Grand Slam titles this year. Swiatek, however, won the yearend WTA Tour finals, defeating world No 2 Sabalenka in the semi-finals.

“The women’s tennis has been at a consistent level for the last couple of seasons. Me, Aryna and Elena, I feel, are standing out and playing consistently but there others who are also just trying to get better,” Swiatek said.

“However, for me there is no difference. I like to work at my own pace, but when somebody is competing with you and keeps pushing you then it has a positive impact and a negative impact, but I don’t over analyse it.”

The day began with HonorFX Falcons’ Taylor Fritz and India’s No 1 Sumit Nagal winning their first match against Ruud and Hubert Hurkacz of TSL Hawks and Fritz, partnering Sorana Cirstea, followed it up with another win Hurkacz and Caroline Garcia.

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Swiatek and Garcia did their best against Rybakina and Cirstea to reduce the margin, but the Falcons held on to their game and won 6-4 before Ruud and Swiatek led the comeback.

In the second match of the day, Aryna Sabalenka took the SG Mavericks Kites to the top of the table with 27 points after a win over Mirra Andreeva of PBG Eagles.