Iga Swiatek starts the Australian Open as almost as strong a favourite to win the women's singles as Novak Djokovic is for the men's event.

Considering Djokovic is a nine-time champion in Melbourne, and Swiatek has never reached the final, that is some going and indicative of the Polish player's dominance on the WTA Tour over the last 11 months.

Swiatek ended last year with eight titles to her name, winning the French Open and US Open among them, and the 21-year-old has accrued more than twice as many ranking points as the next player on the WTA list, Ons Jabeur.

Her ascent to become the dominant woman in tennis has been remarkable, and Swiatek has also earned admiration for her efforts to raise funds for children in war-hit Ukraine.

But is she such an outstanding favourite for the Melbourne Park title as the odds-makers have it?

Since the US Open, she has been a champion at just one – modest by her standards – of the four tournaments she has contested, including the United Cup team event.

Here, Stats Perform looks at five others who might have a say in the destination of the year's first major.

Jessica Pegula

Swiatek was reduced to tears after a 6-2 6-2 drubbing by Pegula on January 6 at the United Cup, her first loss of the year.

She later described Pegula's performance as "the perfect match", and will hope the American cannot always rise to that level.

"It's always hard when you lose, especially when you're playing for the team and your country," Swiatek said at the time, explaining her post-match tears.

Swiatek had won all four of the matches they contested in 2022, dropping only one set, with quarter-final wins on the way to her two grand slam triumphs included in that set.

The result in Sydney, therefore, might have been just a blip, but Pegula is number three in the world for a reason, and Swiatek will surely want to avoid her over the coming fortnight.

Coco Gauff

Is now Gauff's time? There's a question that has been buzzing around the tennis circuit for at least a couple of seasons, despite the American being just 18 years old.

Time, it should be clear, is firmly on her side. She soared to fourth in the rankings in October but has slipped a little since, while remaining firmly established in the top 10.

Given her great talent, Gauff should be resident in the top 10 for many years to come, so we can afford to wait before watching her fly. The sometimes-erratic forehand remains in need of fine-tuning, and Gauff began this year with just two career singles titles to her name after missing out on a trophy in the 2022 season.

However, she reached a first grand slam final last June, losing to Swiatek in Paris, and began 2023 by capturing a title in Auckland where, as top seed, she made light work of the field.

The victory made her the sixth American player to secure three or more WTA-level titles before turning 19 in the last 40 years, after slam winners Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport, Venus and Serena Williams.

That is some company for Gauff, who will face Katerina Siniakova in the first rout in Melbourne, to be keeping, and her time will come. It might even come in Melbourne.

 

Ons Jabeur

After finishing runner-up to Elena Rybakina at Wimbledon and Swiatek at the US Open, Jabeur is targeting a third successive slam final.

The Tunisian would win most popularity contests on the Tour, but she wants one of the big trophies now, and has to be seen as a strong contender in Australia.

Her preparations took a knock with a loss to 18-year-old Czech Linda Noskova at Adelaide International 1, but that will only have made Jabeur work harder in the build-up to the major.

She was gutted to have to pull out of the Australian Open with a back injury last year, and a first-round loss at the French Open followed, but Jabeur came good at the next two majors, albeit falling at the final hurdle.

Aryna Sabalenka

At this time last year, Sabalenka was in crisis, her serve a massive weakness as she struggled to deliver the ball safely.

She recovered from going a set down in three consecutive matches at the Australian Open before losing a rollicking tussle in round four with Estonian veteran and upset specialist Kaia Kanepi.

Sabalenka served a wretched 15 double faults in that match, which was sadly more or less par for her in the early stages of the 2022 season, but the Belarusian got her act together, overcome those yips, and finished the year strongly.

A semi-final run at the US Open was followed by an appearance in the WTA Finals title match, where she lost a close encounter with Caroline Garcia.

Sabalenka began this year not with the serving jitters, but with the Adelaide International 1 title, not dropping a set all week.

She has a big game and with it growing confidence. At the age of 24, she should be entering her prime years, and 2023 could be a special 12 months for the woman with the tiger tattoo.

Zheng Qinwen

The WTA's 2022 Newcomer of the Year winner, Zheng is a 20-year-old Chinese player who could soon follow in the footsteps of compatriot Li Na and begin scooping the biggest prizes in tennis.

How soon? Well, probably not quite yet, but then again very few picked out the then 54th-ranked Swiatek to win the 2020 French Open, the moment that launched her to stardom.

Zheng has rocketed to 30th in the rankings, having begun last year at 126th on the WTA list, and should be considered capable of halving her ranking over this season.

She first came to major prominence at the French Open, when she defeated Simona Halep and for a while also had Swiatek's number in their fourth-round match, winning the first set before menstrual cramps and a leg problem caused her to lose momentum.

The WTA Tour is a learning curve and slam-level success might not come immediately for Zheng, but that newcomer award came her way because she is a player shaping up to have a big say in the sport's future. Along with the likes of Gauff and Swiatek, she could still be a big factor in a decade's time.

Nine-time champion Novak Djokovic will make his return to the Australian Open against Spain's world number 75 Roberto Carballes Baena.

After being deported from Australia last year amid a row over his refusal of a COVID-19 vaccination, Djokovic is firmly back in favour and chasing history in Melbourne, with a record-equalling 22nd men's singles grand slam in his sights.

He begins against an opponent who in four previous main draw appearances has only ever won one singles match at Melbourne Park.

Defending champion Rafael Nadal, whose 22 slam titles Djokovic is seeking to match, has a tricky opener against rising British star Jack Draper, the world number 40.

Second seed Casper Ruud will tackle Czech Tomas Machac first up, with the 115th-ranked player unlikely to prove too daunting an obstacle for last season's French Open and US Open runner-up.

Fifth seed Andrey Rublev could face an awkward assignment against wildcard and former US Open winner Dominic Thiem, while Australia's Nick Kyrgios begins against Russian Roman Safiullin.

Neither 13th seed Matteo Berrettini nor five-time runner-up Andy Murray would have been delighted to be paired together, but that is what happened in Thursday's draw.

In the women's singles, top seed Iga Swiatek starts her bid for a first Australian Open title against Germany's Jule Niemeier, who caught the eye last year on a run to the Wimbledon quarter-finals.

American seventh seed Coco Gauff starts against Czech Katerina Siniakova, while Jessica Pegula, Gauff's third-seeded compatriot who recently beat Swiatek in the United Cup, will face Belgian Jaqueline Cristian.

Gauff could face former US Open winner Emma Raducanu in the second round. Unseeded Briton Raducanu starts against Germany's Tamara Korpatsch.

Former champions Sofia Kenin and Victoria Azarenka go head to head in the first round, with American Kenin unseeded this year and Belarusian Azarenka the 24th seed.

Azarenka's compatriot Aryna Sabalenka is fancied to do well, having banished last year's serving yips, and the fifth seed starts against Czech Tereza Martincova.

Tunisian second seed Ons Jabeur, runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open, begins her latest quest for an elusive grand slam title against Slovenian world number 88 Tamara Zidansek.

Former US Open winner Bianca Andreescu is unseeded in Australia and Czech 25th seed Marie Bouzkova drew a possible short straw by getting the Canadian in round one.

Aryna Sabalenka warmed up for the Australian Open by winning her first WTA title since May 2021 as she beat Linda Noskova in the Adelaide International 1 final on Sunday.

Sabalenka lost in all three of her final appearances in 2022, but she began 2023 in emphatic fashion and crowned a fine week with a 6-3 7-6 (7-4) triumph.

Noskova, who at 18 years and 43 days old became the youngest finalist of a WTA 500-level or above event since 2008, looked up for a scrap as both players threatened to break in the early stages.

But Sabalenka soon took the initiative with the match's first break to go 4-2 up thanks to a ferocious backhand, and she subsequently cruised to seal the set.

The teenager kept things tighter for much longer in the second and went close to tying the match as she found herself 5-4 up and at deuce.

But a tiebreak beckoned, and Noskova's pair of double faults helped Sabalenka open a 5-1 lead, eventually seeing out the win at the second time of asking with a powerful serve that gave her young opponent too much to do.

Sabalenka clinched her success without dropping a single set over the course of the week, something she will hope provides a springboard as she aims to improve on her previous best at the Australian Open, where she reached the fourth round in 2021 and 2022.

Coco Gauff marched into ASB Classic final with an emphatic defeat of Danka Kovinic, while Linda Noskova upset Ons Jabeur to set up an Adelaide International showdown with Aryna Sabalenka.

Gauff beat Kovinic 6-0 6-2 to move into her first hard-court final since claiming the title in Linz back in October 2019.

The top seed from the United States won the first eight games of a one-sided semi-final, making another statement just over a week before the Australian Open gets under way.

Gauff took only 73 minutes to dispatch seventh seed Kovinic and will face qualifier Rebeka Masarova in the final on Sunday.

Spaniard Masarova reached her first WTA Tour final courtesy of a 6-3 6-3 victory over Ysaline Bonaventure.

The 130-ranked Masarova, a junior French Open singles champion in 2016, served with assurance and struck 16 winners to break new ground.

It was also a memorable Saturday for Czech teenager Noskova, who claimed the scalp of world number two Jabeur with a 6-3 1-6 6-3 victory in Adelaide.

It was the 18-year-old Noskova's second win over a top-10 opponent this week, having also knocked out Daria Kasatkina.

Second seed Sabalenka will be a strong favourite to deny world number 102 Noskova the title on Sunday after she saw off Irina-Camelia Begu 6-3 6-2.

 

Aryna Sabalenka secured a straight-sets win in her first match of 2023, but was made to work for it by Liudmila Samsonova at the Adelaide International.

The number two seed won 7-6 (10-8) 7-6 (7-3), saving seven set points after going 5-1 down in the first set, before roaring back to take both tie-breaks.

Sabalenka will face Marketa Vondrousova in the quarter-finals, with the Czech having produced a dominant performance in a 6-0 6-4 win against Kaia Kanepi. 

"When it's 1-5 down, it's like you have nothing to lose, and you just go for your shots without thinking," Sabalenka said.

"That really helped me to stay in the set, to keep fighting and to keep trying."

Fourth seed Veronika Kudermetova eased through after a 6-4 6-0 victory against Bianca Andreescu, while Marta Kostyuk also advanced with a hard-fought 6-7 (5-7) 6-2 6-3 win over Elena Rybakina.

At the ASB Classic in Auckland, second seed Sloane Stephens is out after falling to Rebeka Masarova.

Having been forced to resume on Wednesday after rain suspended play the previous day, Stephens struggled against her Spanish opponent, eventually losing 6-3 7-6 (7-5).

Fifth seed Wang Xiyu is also out after retiring from her match against Karolina Muchova, but seventh seed Danka Kovinic is through after a simple 6-1 6-4 win against Nao Hibino.

Kovinic will face Lauren Davis next after she overcame Tamara Zidansek 6-2 6-1, while fellow American Sofia Kenin will take on number one seed Coco Gauff in the last 16 after she beat Wang Xinyu in straight sets.

Wimbledon's ban on Russian and Belarusian players taking part last year was unjust and changed nothing regarding the war in Ukraine, believes Aryna Sabalenka.

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine last February, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) barred players from both countries appearing at SW19 – a decision that saw the organisation fined by the ATP last month.

World number five Sabalenka joined the likes of Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Victoria Azarenka in being excluded, and she believes the ban was both unfair and pointless.

"This is really terrible because no one supports war – no one," Sabalenka told The Age of the ban. "I'm just really disappointed sport is somehow in politics. 

"We're just athletes playing their sport. That's it. We're not about politics. If all of us could do something [about the war], we would do it, but we have zero control.

"They banned us from Wimbledon, and what did it change? Nothing. [The Russian government] are still doing this, and this is the sad part of this situation."

The LTA is yet to say whether similar measures will be in place this year, and Sabalenka is hopeful of a return after missing the atmosphere at SW19 in 2022.

"I really missed the people because the atmosphere at Wimbledon is super amazing," she said. "You can feel these people really love tennis there, and I really miss them.

"I really hope that I'll play there, just because of the people, to feel this atmosphere. If they're going to ban us again... I don't care about Wimbledon's decision. The only thing I'll miss is the people."

Caroline Garcia spoke of her "giant happiness" after coming through a "big fight" to defeat Aryna Sabalenka and become the WTA Finals champion.

The 29-year-old became just the second Frenchwoman after Amelie Mauresmo in 2005 to win the season-ending tournament by coming through a bruising encounter 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Victory propels Garcia back to a joint-career high ranking of fourth, having been languishing down in the mid-70s as recently as June following a series of injuries.

"It's definitely a lot of giant happiness," Garcia said at her post-match press conference. 

"A crazy final, a lot of intensity on every point. Just really proud of the work we did through all the year. It was a great match – really went for it. I'm really happy to win my biggest title.

"Just very happy about the mindset, to be really calm at every moment. All the negative emotion doesn't affect me, and that was really a big part of taking the few opportunities I had in the tie-breaker and the first game I broke her in the second."

With the win, Garcia pockets $1.57million in prize money and 1,375 ranking points.

Her triumph in Fort Worth is the culmination of sparkling form that has seen her win every final she has played in 2022, while she has won eight of her last nine over the past six years.

It also marks a fine return to the top table. Back in 2017, 11 straight victories to win WTA 1000 events in Wuhan and Beijing saw Garcia first enter the top 10 and earn a maiden trip to the WTA Finals where she lost to Venus Williams in the semi-finals.

"Sometimes you are emotional or things don't go your way," Garcia said. 

"I mean, sometimes there is a big fight, so you have to find your way through it. Some points, where you cannot do anything. You just try to put in the return and to run as fast as you can to the other side.

"And that was one of the biggest points I improved. Today one of the most important things was to stay calm and jump on every opportunity."

Sabalenka had knocked out top seed Iga Swiatek to reach the showpiece match but hit two costly double faults in the first-set breaker – an area that she has struggled with throughout the year.

"I just dropped my level for a little bit. On the tie-break and the first game of the second set. That's it," a rueful Sabalenka reflected.

"I did my best, [but] she played unbelievable tennis."

Caroline Garcia is this season's WTA Finals champion after defeating Aryna Sabalenka 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 in Monday's decider in Fort Worth.

Her road to the final included wins against Coco Gauff, Daria Kasatkina and Maria Sakkari, with her only loss coming against world number one Iga Swiatek, who was eliminated by Sabalenka in the semi-final.

Against Sabalenka, Garcia showed off her powerful serve early as she racked up 10 of her 11 aces in the opening set.

Neither player had a single break point opportunity in the first frame, with both competitors winning exactly 70 per cent of their service points, but after going down a mini-break in the tiebreaker, Garcia rattled off six consecutive points to pull away.

She nabbed the decisive break in the very first game of the second set, serving it out well as she again denied Sabalenka any break point chances.

In one of the biggest matches of her career, Garcia played lights-out, committing just 10 unforced errors with her 24 winners while serving only one double-fault.

She was outside of the top-70 in the world rankings at this time last year, but with the win, Garcia will rise and equal her career-best ranking of fourth in the world.

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Garcia - 11/1

Sabalenka - 4/3

WINNERS/DOUBLE FAULTS

Garcia - 24/10

Sabalenka - 15/11

BREAK POINTS WON

Garcia - 1/1

Sabalenka - 0/0

Aryna Sabalenka eliminated world number one Iga Swiatek 6-2 2-6 6-1 on Sunday to advance to the decider of the WTA Finals.

Swiatek had not lost a set during her week in Fort Worth entering the contest, earning her spot in the semi-final after straight-sets wins against Coco Gauff, Caroline Garcia and Daria Kasatkina.

Needing to start well to give herself a chance against the in-form Polish star, Sabalenka did just that, breaking Swiatek in her first service game.

Swiatek broke back instantly, but she had no response when the BelaruSsian secured two more breaks of serve in the opening frame to wrap it up in 40 minutes.

After winning only 43 per cent (12-of-28) of her service points in the first set, Swiatek seemed to figure things out in the second, raising that number to 61 per cent (17-of-28) to win the first four games and run away with it and send the match to a decider.

But Swiatek's uncharacteristic errors came back to bite her, committing two double faults in each of the three sets, and after posting a combined 21 winners with 17 unforced errors in the first two frames, she mustered only five winners with nine unforced errors in the last.

Sabalenka rattled off five consecutive games to close out the match, utilising her imposing serve to get the job done, serving 12 aces to Swiatek's one.

She will now face Caroline Garcia in the final after the Frenchwoman proved too strong for Maria Sakkari in a 6-3 6-2 victory earlier in the day.

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Sabalenka - 12/9
Swiatek - 1/6

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Sabalenka - 23/19
Swiatek - 26/26

BREAK POINTS WON

Sabalenka - 6/13
Swiatek - 4/10

Aryna Sabalenka kept her hopes of progressing to last four of the WTA Finals alive with a straight-sets win over Jessica Pegula.

Sabalenka claimed her second win in three matches with a 6-3 7-5 triumph against her American opponent in Fort Worth, Texas. 

Having dominated the opening set, Sabalenka twice failed to consolidate a break of serve in the second.

However, she struck for a third and final time to claim a win that means she will go through in second place in Group Nancy Richey if Maria Sakkari, who is already through, wins a set against Ons Jabeur in the final round-robin match. Pegula exits having lost all three of her matches.

"I’m just happy that I was really focused from the beginning to the end and I was able to finish this match in two sets," Sabalenka said afterwards.

Sabalenka struck 31 winners en route to victory, hitting at least 30 for the 16th match this season.

Only Caroline Garcia (18) and Elena Rybakina (17) have had more such matches on the WTA Tour in 2022, indicating that, if Sabalenka does go through, she has the firepower to threaten to claim the trophy.

BREAK POINTS WON

Sabalenka - 6/12

Pegula - 3/5

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Swiatek - 1/3

Kasatkina - 1/1

Maria Sakkari is yet to lose a set through two WTA Finals games, defeating Aryna Sabalenka 6-2 6-4 on Wednesday to advance through the Nancy Richey Group into the final-four.

The first set was relatively smooth sailing for the Greek, taking advantage of Sabalenka's errors to break twice.

Belarus' Sabalenka did create some chances herself, with two break opportunities compared to Sakkari's four, but could not take either. She also committed the only two double faults of the opening frame, and had 13 unforced errors with her seven winners, while Sakkari had an even four unforced errors and four winners.

The second set was more of the same, with Sabalenka committing 16 unforced errors with only eight winners as Sakkari collected an early double-break to go up 3-0, seemingly coasting to victory.

But Sabalenka fought back, winning the next four games in a row to briefly take the lead in the set. Unfortunately for her, the see-sawing contest saw Sakkari rattle off the next three games to close out the win.

Sabalenka is still a chance to advance to the next round after defeating Ons Jabeur in her opening fixture.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Sakkari - 15/16

Sabalenka - 15/29

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Sakkari - 1/1

Sabalenka - 0/4

BREAK POINTS WON

Sakkari - 5/7

Sabalenka - 2/7

Aryna Sabalenka fought from a set behind to come back and defeat Ons Jabeur 3-6 7-6 (7-5) 7-5 in their first match of the WTA Finals on Monday.

Sabalenka, 24, has now won her past three matches against Jabeur, and this time around it was her ability to limit the effectiveness of the Tunisian's serve that turned the tide.

Jabeur's serve dominated the opening set, winning 73 per cent (16-of-22) of her service points while not allowing Sabalenka a single break point opportunity.

The second set was a different story, as some double faults crept into Jabeur's game and her success rate on her service points dipped to 51 per cent (24-of-47), allowing Sabalenka to break three times before forcing a decider with a close tiebreaker.

Sabalenka finally got on top in the third set, narrowly edging the total points count 37 to 31 in the frame while converting both of her break point chances to finish off the victory.

She now sits second in the Group B standings, trailing Maria Sakkari due to the Greek winning her match in straight sets.

BREAK POINTS WON

Sabalenka - 5/8

Jabeur - 6/10

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Sabalenka - 21/26

Jabeur - 37/29

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Sabalenka - 1/6

Jabeur - 7/5

There will be one racing certainty when the WTA Finals gets under way: a new champion will be crowned.

Iga Swiatek heads the list of contenders to carry off the trophy in Fort Worth, Texas, having enjoyed a spectacular season.

Ascendant Americans Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff will be chasing a home victory, while Tunisia's Ons Jabeur has reached finals at Wimbledon and the US Open so loves the big occasion.

Ahead of the tournament getting under way on Monday, Stats Perform has taken a look at the eight-player field.

Swiatek still the player to beat

With no past winner in the line-up, there is every reason to look to the world number one, Swiatek, as favourite.

The 21-year-old Polish player has eight titles this year, lifting trophies at Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart, Rome, the French Open, the US Open and San Diego.

Indeed, she is the only grand slam singles winner in the draw, with Ash Barty having retired and Elena Rybakina absent after no ranking or race points were awarded at Wimbledon, where she was a surprise champion.

Rybakina's absence calls into question the meritocracy of this year's tournament, which is intended to showcase the top performers on tour, yet there can be no doubt the season's premier performer is in the draw.

French Open and US Open winner Swiatek's remarkable run of 10 straight-sets victories in finals (dating back to the 2020 French Open) was finally ended by Barbora Krejcikova, who sprang a shock by winning in Ostrava in early October.

But by getting back to winning ways a week later in San Diego, scrapping for a three-set victory over Donna Vekic in the title match, Swiatek produced a typically impressive response, beating Qinwen Zheng, Gauff and Pegula on her way through the draw to improve to 64-8 in her win-loss record for the year.

Here is a measure of her dominance this season: Swiatek headed the 'Race to the WTA Finals' rankings with 10,335 points, with the players in second (Jabeur) to eighth place (Daria Kasatkina) having tallies ranging between 4,555 and 2,935 points.

Is Pegula the chief rival to Swiatek?

She might not have been the player that would have sprung to mind even a month ago, but Pegula's victory at the Guadalajara Open this month was an eye-opener.

Beginning by saving match points in a thrilling three-setter against Rybakina, Pegula took down grand slam winners Bianca Andreescu, Sloane Stephens and Victoria Azarenka before swatting aside Maria Sakkari in the final.

Pegula has reached quarter-finals at the Australian, French and US Opens in 2022, and she has a tour-high 39 wins in WTA 1000 events since the beginning of last year.

She is up to third in the WTA rankings, one ahead of Coco Gauff, with the United States now having two women in the top five for the first time since October 2010, when Serena Williams was number two and sister Venus sat fourth.

As Pegula said after the Guadalajara final: "I'm definitely a very ambitious person. A little bit of a perfectionist, as well. I don't think you could win if you weren't ambitious, especially at this level.

"I feel like it's going to give me more motivation going forward knowing I can win these big titles. I think it will give me a lot of confidence ending the year, going into next year."

These are spirited words. She heads into the tournament with a 0-4 record against Swiatek in 2022, however.

Who's in, who's out, what's it all about?

As well as Swiatek and Pegula, the field for the eight-day tournament includes Caroline Garcia, Aryna Sabalenka and Sakkari, who have all featured at the WTA Finals in the past.

Four players make their debuts, including Pegula, who is joined as a newcomer by Jabeur, Gauff and Daria Kasatkina.

Gauff, 18, has become the 14th player aged under 19 to reach the WTA top five since the rankings were introduced in 1975.

She would not be the youngest WTA Finals champion, were she to lift the title, as Monica Seles has a tight grip on that record, having triumphed at the age of 16 years and 11 months at the 1990 edition.

Last year's champion Garbine Muguruza is absent. The Spaniard was expected by many to push on and enjoy a stellar 2022 season, but it did not play out that way, with the former French Open and Wimbledon winner sliding to 57th in the world rankings after a dismal campaign.

It goes to show that whoever prevails in Fort Worth, we should be cautious about treating the outcome as an indication of what to expect in the new year.

World number one Iga Swiatek thrashed Coco Gauff to clinch a third straight WTA Tour semi-finals berth after moving into the San Diego Open final four on Friday.

Swiatek was irrepressible against the 18-year-old American, extending her head-to-head dominance to 4-0 with a 6-0 6-3 victory in 66 minutes.

The Pole won the first eight games of the match and always appeared in control with her reliable forehand a key feature.

Swiatek laced 13 winners with only nine unforced errors, breaking Gauff five times. The American committed 26 unforced errors for the match.

The victory is Swiatek's 62nd of the season, moving her closer to Angelique Kerber's 2016 mark of 63.

Swiatek will face fourth seed Jessica Pegula in the semi-finals as the Pole aims for her eighth WTA title of the season.

Pegula secured her berth in the final four with a 6-4 7-5 victory over compatriot Madison Keys in their first-ever meeting in one hour and 34 minutes.

Third seed Aryna Sabalenka was a surprise casualty as Croatian qualifier Donna Vekic continued her excellent week with a 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 6-1 in two hours and 37 minutes.

World number 77 Vekic has beaten former world number three Maria Sakkari and two-time major finalist Karolina Pliskova this week.

Second seed Paula Badosa was also bundled out by American Danielle Collins 7-6 (7-5) 6-4. Collins will meet Vekic in the last four.

World number one Iga Swiatek commenced her San Diego Open campaign with a hard-fought three-set victory over Chinese lucky loser Zheng Qinwen in rainy conditions on Thursday.

The 2022 French Open and US Open champion triumphed 6-4 4-6 6-1 in two hours and two minutes, bouncing back strongly after losing the second set.

Zheng's power and forehand top spin proved challenging for the Pole, who was solid from the baseline to secure her 11st tour quarter-finals appearance this season.

The Chinese had broken Swiatek to lead 1-0 in the third set, but the top seed responded in trademark style, improving her record in the United States this season to 21-1.

Swiatek will take on eighth seed Coco Gauff in the quarter-finals, with the match-up marking a re-match of this year's French Open final.

Gauff worked her way into the last eight with a 6-4 4-6 6-3 victory over 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu.

The 18-year-old American also had to fight back from a set down in the third set to win in a match that lasted just over two-and-a-half hours.

Third seed Aryna Sabalenka fought back from a lopsided opening set to knock out American Sloane Stephens 1-6 6-3 6-2 in two hours and one minute. The Belarussian will take on Donna Vekic in the next round.

Second seed Paula Badosa eased into the last eight, winning in 53 minutes against American qualifier Louisa Chirico 6-0 6-3. Badosa will face Danielle Collins in the quarter-finals.

Madison Keys triumphed over eighth seed Daria Kasatkina 6-4 6-3 in one hour and 27 minutes to secure a quarter-final date with fourth seed Jessica Pegula.

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