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A Surprising WTA Finals Victory Mirrors the 12 months in Women’s Tennis

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FORT WORTH — A sometimes shocking women’s tennis season neared an end here on Monday night with Caroline Garcia’s unexpected victory on the WTA Finals — yet one more surprise in a 12 months filled with them.

In May, Garcia was ranked 79th on the earth and was still recovering from chronic foot problems that had forced her to change to a unique brand of shoe. However the French veteran will finish the season at No. 4 after winning the most important singles title of her profession with a convincing victory, 7-6 (4), 6-4, over Aryna Sabalenka on Monday that capped a resurgent second half of the season.

“I got here from way back this 12 months,” Garcia said in an interview near midnight conducted with considered one of her prizes — a recent cowboy hat — perched on her head. “I might never have thought I’d be here today, nevertheless it was really a day-by-day project, and I progressively got more confident in my game again, and I began feeling higher and higher physically.”

She needed all her quickness and agility to prevail on this elite tournament reserved for the highest eight singles players. After losing in group play to tournament favorite Iga Swiatek, this 12 months’s runaway No. 1, Garcia got here inside two points of elimination before winning her last round-robin match against Daria Kasatkina, a resourceful Russian who can defend brilliantly and likes to loop forehands and shift spins and paces.

Sabalenka, a six-foot tower of power from Belarus with a big tiger tattoo on her left forearm, posed a wholly different challenge in Monday’s high-velocity final, which was filled with big serves, full-cut winners and Sabalenka’s thunderous grunts. The margin for error was minimal, with each women ripping shots low over the online. Long rallies were rarer than aces and quick-strike groundstroke winners, and yet given Garcia’s yen for positioning herself contained in the baseline and rushing the online, it was an attention-grabbing contrast in styles.

An only child and self-described introvert, Garcia plays extroverted tennis: daring and sometimes spectacular as she pounces on short balls and lunges to punch volleys or use her soft hands to generate more acute angles.

“It’s true that being really sure of yourself in sports is a crucial factor,” she said. “But I believe through the years I’ve grow to be more mature and am more comfortable with my mentality on the court, which is sort of a bit different than who I’m off the court, which is moderately timid and reserved. It’s true I sometimes have had trouble harmonizing these two parts of my personality, but tennis helps you learn lots about yourself, and I’ve gotten higher at it this 12 months.”

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Though her game is high-risk, it translates to different surfaces. She was the one WTA player to win titles on clay, grass and hardcourts this 12 months and in addition won the WTA Finals on the indoor court in Dickies Arena. She is the second Frenchwoman to win the season-ending singles championship since its inception in 1972, joining Amélie Mauresmo, the 2005 champion who also liked to attack and won her title in the USA.

Mauresmo’s got here in Los Angeles, Garcia’s in Fort Price — a city she had barely heard of before the WTA announced it because the host lower than two months before the tournament after it was moved from Shenzhen, China.

“All I knew about was the Dallas-Fort Price Airport,” Garcia said.

But her first trip to Texas turned out to be a joyride, and Monday was so transcendent that she neglected to do her trademark “Fly with Caro” airplane celebration in victory.

“It’s true! You’re right!” she said later when asked about it. “There was just a lot emotion that I completely forgot the airplane. I’ll must do it on the hotel or tomorrow.”

Garcia’s run in Fort Price got here despite splitting together with her coach Bertrand Perret, a key figure in Garcia’s revival. Perret quit shortly before the WTA Finals.

“These previous few weeks, there have been problems, and so they ended up ruining the atmosphere,” he told L’Équipe, the French sports publication. “I do that job for pleasure and there was less of it.”

Perret didn’t elaborate aside from to say he had no problem with Garcia herself.

As a substitute of folding, Garcia quickly rebuilt, arriving on the WTA Finals with a training consultant, Juan Pablo Guzman, and her parents, Louis-Paul and Mylène; Louis-Paul, long the architect of his daughter’s profession, served again because the principal coach for the week.

“After all it was unexpected and sophisticated to handle,” Caroline Garcia said of Perret’s resignation. “I attempted to rebound and take note all the great memories we made this 12 months and all we had worked on.”

Much has modified this 12 months in the ladies’s game. The season began with Ashleigh Barty entrenched at No. 1 after winning her home Grand Slam tournament, the Australian Open, in January.

In March, without playing one other match, Barty shocked the tennis world by announcing her retirement from competition at age 25. Though ruling out a comeback seems imprudent considering what number of tennis retirements have come undone through the a long time, Barty insisted this week that she meant it. “You’ll be able to never say never, but no,” she said of a comeback in an interview in Melbourne with the Australian Associated Press. “No, no, no. I’m done.”

This was also the 12 months that Serena Williams, now 41, likely bid farewell to the sport that she once dominated, playing in her farewell U.S. Open and showing flashes of long-ago form in reaching the third round.

Garcia made her deepest run yet at a significant in that event, advancing to the U.S. Open semifinals before losing to Ons Jabeur in straight sets. Though Garcia had struggled to recapture that form in recent weeks, she said she used her U.S. Open disappointment for fuel in Fort Price.

“I believe that have served me well today,” Garcia said.

She served magnificently in the ultimate, never facing a break point and repeatedly coming up with aces and repair winners on pivotal points to maintain Sabalenka, a streaky and aggressive returner, from constructing momentum.

Garcia’s hardest service game got here last, but though Sabalenka saved a match point with a backhand winner and pushed Garcia to deuce, Sabalenka couldn’t generate a break point. When Sabalenka’s last forehand missed, Garcia tumbled to the court with delight while Sabalenka smacked her racket twice in anger on the indoor court. She embraced Garcia at the online after which took a seat, covered her head with a white towel and sobbed at length.

Though she began the 12 months ranked No. 2 on the earth, Sabalenka didn’t win a tournament in 2022 and was banned from Wimbledon, like all players from Russia and Belarus, due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The WTA Tour took a more inclusive tack, allowing those players to compete as neutrals, and so they had a robust finish in Fort Price, with Veronika Kudermetova of Russia teaming up with Elise Mertens of Belgium to win the ladies’s doubles title.

The war continues, but Steve Simon, the WTA chairman and chief executive, said the tour intends to maintain the door open for Russian and Belarusian players to compete as individuals in 2023 and can push for Wimbledon to revive access, as well.

“We will’t condemn strongly enough the reprehensible actions of Russia against Ukraine,” Simon said. “But we’ll proceed to face for that principle, which is that our athletes must have the option to compete in the event that they qualify for entry, no matter where they’re from.”

Russia and Belarus are banned from team competitions, nonetheless, meaning that Sabalenka’s and Kudermetova’s seasons are over. Garcia will return to France to play in a playoff for the Billie Jean King Cup against the Netherlands, with matches in Le Portel on Friday and Saturday.

She won’t take off her cowboy hat until then.

“It’s a pleasant souvenir,” she said Monday night. “And I got one just after I arrived here, so now I even have two.”

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