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Jokic salutes ‘special’ Edwards after influential Game 1 showing

Aryna Sabalenka is encouraged by her participation in the final of the Madrid Open and feels her performance level “can only get better” despite the defeat to Iga Swiatek.

In a repeat of last year’s showpiece, the world number two fell 7-5 4-6 7-6 (9-7) in a thrilling encounter with the Pole, who avenged her loss 12 months ago.

Sabalenka, who saw three championship points begged off, narrowly missed becoming the second woman to win three titles in Madrid, after Petra Kvitova.

Nevertheless, the reigning Australian Open champion reached her first final since winning in Melbourne as she extended her winning streak in the Spanish capital to 11 matches before losing to the world number one.

“I really want to see a lot more finals against Swiatek. I want to see more wins than losses,” she said. “But I really hope that we can maintain or increase the level every year.

“I’m happy with the level I played, with the effort I put into this match and this week. I leave Madrid with positive thoughts.

“When I broke (Swiatek) in the third set, I probably should have been more focused on my serve. But at the same time, it’s not like I double-faulted; she played great tennis and she broke me back.

“I think I had a hard time for a few months after the Australian Open. It was intense. I’m super happy that I was able to put everything together here in Madrid and get back to my level. From now on it can only get better become.”

Swiatek was not to be denied a third title of the season – a tally matched only by Elena Rybakina – and she has now won each of her last seven finals at WTA Tour level since losing to Sabalenka in Madrid last year.

The three-time French Open champion has now also triumphed in every European clay-court tournament at WTA 500 level or higher.

“When I look back in maybe a few years, it will mean a lot,” said the Pole. “But for now I’m just happy that I won this tournament. It doesn’t matter to me whether I’ve won it before or not. I try to win every tournament I play.”

“I think it was more about who would be less stressed and who could play with more freedom.

“For most of the match I felt like some of the decisions (hers) were quite brave. I was a little back at times. So ultimately I just didn’t want to do that and also be brave.

“I don’t know what made the difference. I think we both deserved to win; I think it was just about those little points in the tiebreak.”