Victoria Azarenka is through to her first Australian Open semi-final in a decade after beating Jessica Pegula in straights sets.

Azarenka had not reached the last four at Melbourne Park since going on to retain her title in 2013, but ended that wait with an impressive 6-4 6-1 victory over the third seed on Tuesday.

The 33-year-old from Belarus will do battle with Elena Rybakina for a place in the final following a commanding display on Rod Laver Arena.

Azarenka, the 24th seed, stormed into a 3-0 lead and although Pegula got back on serve at 5-3, she was a set down after being broken for a second time.

The experienced Azarenka clinically grasped her first break-point opportunity of the second set but Pegula hit straight back with a break of her own in the next game.

She was unable to turn the tide, though, as an inspired Azarenka dominated the remainder of the set with another two breaks and losing only a further two points behind her serve.

Azarenka, a winner of two mixed doubles grand slam titles since her last major triumph at this tournament 10 years ago, wrapped up the victory in an hour and 37 minutes.

 

Azarenka moves level with Graf

This quarter-final win for the former world number one took her tally of main-draw victories at the Australian Open to 47.

She is now level with the great Steffi Graf in sixth place on the list of the most women’s singles main-draw triumphs in this tournament in the Open Era.

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Azarenka – 0/2
Pegula – 3/2

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Azarenka– 17/20
Pegula– 19/31

BREAK POINTS WON

Azarenka – 5/13
Pegula – 2/4

Jessica Pegula has been wearing a number three on her outfit at the Australian Open, and she confirmed it is to show support to Damar Hamlin.

Buffalo Bills safety Hamlin went into cardiac arrest during the game against the Cincinnati Bengals on January 2 and spent over a week in hospital, much of that time in critical condition.

Pegula's parents own the NFL franchise as well as the Buffalo Sabres NHL team, and during her second-round win over Aliaksandra Sasnovich in Melbourne, was seen with a number three on her skirt, which is Hamlin's number and became a symbol of appreciation from well-wishers during his recovery.

"I definitely wanted to do something," Pegula said after her 6-2 7-6 (7-5) victory over Sasnovich. "We were kind of figuring out what the Bills and the Sabres were doing, just as far as what was the message.

"I knew they would probably do something and what message were they trying to send. It ended up being [that] the three was the symbol.

“I just thought it would be cool to put on my outfit here. I thought it would be a fun way to kind of connect with the team and then also just show my support."

There had been speculation that the number was related to her ranking, with the 28-year-old coincidentally the WTA world number three heading into the Australian Open, where she is the third seed, but Pegula laughed off the suggestion.

"I saw someone tweet that: 'Why would you put your ranking on your skirt?'. I'm, like, 'No, that’s not why,'" she said with amusement.

Pegula will play the winner of Olivia Gadecki and Marta Kostyuk in round three at Melbourne Park.

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.

Taylor Fritz claimed the deciding victory as the United States stormed into an unassailable 3-0 lead over Italy in the United Cup final.

Jessica Pegula and Frances Tiafoe paved the way for Fritz to be the hero with their victories over Martina Trevisan and Lorenzo Musetti earlier in Sunday's final in Sydney.

While Musetti retired hurt while trailing 6-2, WTA world number three Pegula dispatched Trevisan in straight sets, carrying on the form that saw her defeat Iga Swiatek in the USA's semi-final win over Poland.

And Fritz ensured that the inaugural United Cup went his nation's way with a 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-6) win over Matteo Berrettini, who clawed back the first championship point but was unable to prevent his opponent taking the second.

"It's great. It’s amazing for the team to win this event. We came in with really high hopes, or at least I did, for the event," said Fritz, who is ranked ninth in the world by the ATP after winning three titles in 2022.

"I was really happy to be in that position to clinch the match."

There were jubilant scenes as the USA team rushed to celebrate with Fritz, though Tiafoe was perhaps slightly overzealous.

"Just the emotions when you win and everyone comes running at you, it’s amazing," Fritz said. "I don’t know if you saw the replay but Frances basically headbutted me!"

Iga Swiatek was in tears after losing to Jessica Pegula as the United States took a 2-0 United Cup semi-final lead over Poland, while Italy moved into command against Greece on Friday.

World number one Swiatek was beaten 6-2 6-2 by the impressive Pegula in just 71 minutes at Ken Rosewall Arena.

Swiatek got the better of Pegula three times last year, but the American made light work of seeing off the three-time grand slam champion this time around to put USA in front.

Pegula struck 21 winners, attacking the Swiatek serve in a commanding display just over a week before the Australian Open gets under way.

Swiatek's emotions came out after she was emphatically defeated by the world number three in Sydney.

Pegula said: "I played her today, conditions are totally different than anywhere else I played her. Obviously maybe I had a little bit of an advantage, they just flew in yesterday.

"Definitely the fastest conditions I have played her [in]. Every other place I've played her has been pretty slow. I think that favoured me a lot, and I was able to use that to my advantage and play a really super clean match.

"I think I just was able to execute my game plan probably better than I have previous times."

Frances Tiafoe backed up Pegula's win by beating Kacper Zuk, who replaced the unwell Daniel Michalski, 6-3 6-3.

That ensures Taylor Fritz has a chance to put the United States into the final if he beats Hubert Hurkacz on Saturday.

Italy are in control of the other semi-final following victories for Martina Trevisan and Lorenzo Musetti.

Trevisan upset Maria Sakkari 6-3 6-7 (4-7) 7-5 before Musetti outclassed Stefanos Sakellaridis, winning 6-1 6-1.

Iga Swiatek dragged Poland into the semi-finals of the United Cup with inspired performances in her singles and doubles matches against Italy.

Poland trailed after Lorenzo Musetti and Matteo Berrettini secured wins against Daniel Michalski and Hubert Hurkacz respectively, only for Swiatek and Magda Linette to level things with respective singles victories over Martina Trevisan and Lucia Bronzetti.

That sent the Brisbane city final to a decider in the mixed doubles, which Swiatek and Hurkacz won with ease 6-1 6-2 against Musetti and Camilla Rosatello, though there was a pause in the second set to dry rainfall on the court.

Despite defeat, Italy also advanced to the final four as the city finals loser with the best record.

It was more routine in Sydney as the United States eased to a 4-1 win against Great Britain.

Madison Keys came from a set down to beat Katie Swan, while Jessica Pegula eased past Harriet Dart 6-2 6-0 after Cameron Norrie had defeated Taylor Fritz in three sets.

Despite going a set behind, Frances Tiafoe came back to beat Dan Evans 3-6 7-5 6-3 to clinch the win for his country, before Pegula and Fritz added some gloss after beating Dart and Evans in the mixed doubles.

The third city final in Perth included a thriller as Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Borna Coric 6-0 6-7 (4-7) 7-5. Donna Vekic had no trouble getting Croatia on the board as she eased past Despina Papamichail 6-2 6-0.

Maria Sakkari put Greece 2-1 ahead when she beat Petra Martic 6-3 6-3, but Borna Gojo defeated Stefanos Sakellaridis in straight sets to make it 2-2.

However, Greece secured the win and their place in the last four after the pairing of Sakkari and Tsitsipas saw off Martic and Gojo 7-6 (8-6) 6-4.

Greece will take on Italy in the semi-finals, while Poland face the USA, with both taking place in Sydney on Friday.

Wins for Hubert Hurkacz and Magda Linette saw Poland advance to the City Finals of the United Cup in Australia on Tuesday.

Hurkacz made it through a tough encounter against Stan Wawrinka 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 to give Poland a 2-1 lead in their Group B tie with Switzerland in Brisbane, before Linette came from behind to beat Jil Teichmann 5-7 6-4 6-1 to clinch it.

Poland will face Italy in the Brisbane final, whose 5-0 whitewash of Norway included Matteo Berrettini sealing victory with a 6-4 6-4 win over Casper Ruud.

In Perth, Croatia advanced to the City Finals after a dramatic day that saw Caroline Garcia get France on the board with a straight sets win against Petra Martic, before Adrian Mannarino came from a set down against Borna Gojo to serve for the match as he looked to bring his country level at 2-2.

However, Gojo broke back in a tense encounter before winning a deciding tie-break to send Croatia through to face Greece, who sealed a 4-1 win against Belgium.

Stefanos Sakellaridis recovered from going a set behind to beat Zizou Bergs, before Maria Sakkari overcame Elise Mertens 6-1 7-5, with Sakkari and Stefanos Tsitsipas adding some gloss to the score with a mixed doubles success against Kirsten Flipkens and Michael Geerts. 

Spain and Australia were unable to progress but the hosts at least had the consolation of securing a victory thanks to wins for Jason Kubler against Albert Ramos-Vinolas, and the mixed doubles duo of John Peers and Sam Stosur against Jessica Bouzas Maneiro and David Vega Hernandez.

The USA had already secured their Finals berth against Great Britain in Sydney, but were ruthless as they finished off their tie against Germany to win 5-0.

After Jessica Pegula beat Laura Siegemund 6-3 6-2, Frances Tiafoe also defeated Oscar Otte in straight sets, before the American duo combined to beat Siegemund and Daniel Altmaier 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 10-7 to complete a clean sweep.

Maria Sakkari sealed victory for top-seeded Greece over Bulgaria in the United Cup with a straight sets win over Viktoriya Tomova.

Team-mates Stefanos Tsitsipas and Despina Papamichail had already won their matches on Thursday, and Sakkari's 6-3 6-2 triumph gave Greece an unassailable 3-0 lead.

Michail Pervolarakis was defeated by Dimitar Kuzmanov in the final singles match between the nations, but Tsitsipas and Sakkari teamed up to earn Greece a 6-4 6-4 success in the doubles encounter to end on a high.

World number 16 Matteo Berrettini helped Italy topple Brazil by overcoming Thiago Monteiro 6-4 7-6 (9-7).

That gave Italy a 2-1 lead, and Lucia Bronzetti finished the job by demolishing Laura Pigossi in straight sets, with Brazil powerless to overturn the deficit despite Berrettini and Camilla Rosatello's defeat in the doubles match.

US Open semi-finalist Frances Tiafoe clinched a win for the United States over the Czech Republic after opponent Tomas Machac retired with an ankle injury with the score at 6-3 2-4.

Petra Kvitova had defeated Jessica Pegula 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 in the third singles match to give Czech Republic hope, but Tiafoe's win settled the contest before Pegula and Taylor Fritz joined up for success in the doubles.

Great Britain were 3-2 victors over Australia despite a pair of defeats on day two in Sydney.

Cameron Norrie's triumph over Nick Kyrgios' replacement Alex De Minaur on day one had helped Great Britain to a 2-0 lead over the hosts, and Harriet Dart prevailed over Maddison Inglis to wrap up the victory.

Dan Evans was then beaten 6-3 7-6 (7-3) by Jason Kubler before Dart and Jonny O'Mara fell to defeat in the doubles, but Great Britain's strong start saw them through.

France and Switzerland completed 5-0 sweeps of Argentina and Kazakhstan respectively, with Caroline Garcia winning both her singles and doubles matches in straight sets while Stan Wawrinka saw off Alexander Bublik 6-3 7-6 (7-3).

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

World number two Ons Jabeur kept her chances of WTA Finals success intact as she came from behind to defeat Jessica Pegula.

Having lost to Aryna Sabalenka in her opening match in Fort Worth, US Open and Wimbledon runner-up Jabeur was staring down a group-stage exit from the tournament when she found herself 1-6 2-3 down halfway through the second set on Wednesday.

Yet the 28-year-old hit back to triumph 1-6 6-3 6-3 over her American opponent, the world number three, who has now lost both of her matches in the Nancy Richey group.

Jabeur reeled off four straight games to take the momentum and, after fending off four break points to hold serve in the first game of the deciding set, did not look back, clinching a decisive break to nose 5-3 ahead.

A stray Pegula cross-court forehand wrapped up Jabeur's comeback win, and the Tunisian, who is aiming to become the first African player to reach the semi-finals at the season-ending tournament, can now turn focus to her final group game against Maria Sakkari, who she has faced three times previously, losing twice. 

Jabeur's victory was her third against a top-three opponent, after beating Simona Halep in 2018 and Karolina Pliskova in 2020, while only world number one Iga Swiatek has won more matches this season (47).

BREAK POINTS WON

Jabeur - 4/10

Pegula - 4/9

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Jabeur - 27/29

Pegula - 11/16

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Jabeur - 1/2

Pegula - 0/5

Maria Sakkari defeated Jessica Pegula 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (7-4) in the opening match of the WTA Finals on Monday in Fort Worth.

It was a highly anticipated first match after the same two competitors faced off in the Guadalajara Open final just eight days ago, with Pegula taking that contest 6-2 6-3 in convincing fashion.

That final lasted just 71 minutes, but the rematch would be a far more gruelling affair, with the first set alone reaching 73 minutes.

Illustrating the even nature of the contest, both players won exactly 52 out of 104 total points played in the opening set, with both players converting three of their five break point opportunities.

Sakkari created a slight edge in the second set, winning 52 per cent of the points (42-of-81) and creating four break point opportunities to Pegula's one.

Pegula took her only chance to break, and then saved two match points to force a tiebreak, but Sakkari would not be denied as she secured the victory and moved to the top of the Group B standings.

BREAK POINTS WON

Sakkari - 4/9

Pegula - 4/6

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Sakkari - 3/1

Pegula - 3/4

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Sakkari - 22/22

Pegula - 22/28

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.

Jessica Pegula will rise to third in the world rankings after defeating Maria Sakkari 6-2 6-3 in the final of the Guadalajara Open on Sunday.

It is surprisingly only the second singles title of Pegula's career on the WTA Tour, and the 28-year-old's first WTA 1000 title.

Against Sakkari, the American showcased her complete game, controlling the opening set with her serve before using her powerful returning ability to close things out.

In the first set, Pegula converted 10 of her 11 accurate first serves into points, winning 76 per cent of her total service points while facing no break opportunities. She only had two break point opportunities herself, and she took both.

Her success rate on service points dropped to 60 per cent in the second set, but she made up for it with her returns, winning 55 per cent of the points on Sakkari's serve while breaking three times to pull away.

It caps off a remarkable week for Pegula, who collected straight-sets wins over top-50 opponents Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens and Bianca Andreescu in her three matches leading to the final.

While it was the last tournament of the season, both Pegula and Sakkari finished in the top-eight for world ranking points this season and therefore have qualified for the WTA Finals, beginning on October 31.

World number five Jessica Pegula clinched a berth in her second WTA final of the year with a straight-sets victory over Victoria Azarenka at the Guadalajara Open on a rainy Saturday.

Pegula defeated the former world number one Belarussian 7-6 (7-3) 6-1 in one hour and 29 minutes, having fought back from a 4-1 first-set deficit.

The American will need to wait until Sunday to learn her opponent, with rain forcing Maria Sakkari and Marie Bouzkova's semi-final to be suspended and eventually postponed with the Greek leading 7-5.

Pegula's triumph was her 40th win of the season, becoming the 10th American woman to achieve that feat.

The victory also made it four successive Grand Slam winners that Pegula has overcome to reach the final in Guadalajara, knocking off Sloane Stephens, Bianca Andreescu and Elena Rybakina along with Azarenka.

Pegula converted three of eight break points, while Azarenka took her only break point of the match to help her open up the 4-1 first-set lead.

The American proved better on her second serve, while she managed to win 15 of 26 points on Azarenka's second serve.

Sakkari and Bouzkova's semi-final will resume at 1pm local time on Sunday, with the fourth seed leading 7-5 after an epic first set that lasted 84 minutes.

The Greek showed off her grit after fluffing an early 3-1 lead by taking her eighth set point, winning a 22-shot rally - the longest of the first set - to break Bouzkova in the 12th game.

The final is due to commence no earlier than 6pm local time on Sunday, meaning it will be a physical test for the victor.

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