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Treble-chasing Swiatek bids to extend French Open reign

football07 June 2024 11:20| Ā© AFP
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Iga Swiatek goes into Saturday's French Open final as the overwhelming favourite in her quest for a third successive Roland Garros title against surprise challenger Jasmine Paolini of Italy.


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Swiatek, the world No 1 from Poland, is attempting to become the fourth woman in the Open era to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen four times ā€“ after Justine Henin, Chris Evert and Steffi Graf.

Only two have won the French Open three years in a row ā€“ Henin (2005-07) and Monica Seles (1990-92) ā€“ but Swiatek's supremacy on the clay in Paris has attracted comparisons with Rafael Nadal, winner of 14 men's titles and who holds a 112-4 record at Roland Garros.

"We'll see in 14 years if the journey is similar. That's obviously really nice for me," said Swiatek.

"I would never expect anybody to compare me to Rafa because for me he's above everybody, and he's a total legend.

"We'll see in couple of years, but I'm proud of myself that I'm playing consistently here and that I'm mentioned in the same sentence as Rafa. That's cool."

The 23-year-old Swiatek has won all four of her previous Grand Slam finals and will bid to extend that run against Paolini.

Swiatek has won both her previous meetings with 12th seed Paolini, although the last of those was at the 2022 US Open and the Italian is enjoying by far the best year of her career.

Paolini, 28, will be appearing in her first Grand Slam final after defeating Russian 17-year-old sensation Mirra Andreeva in the last four. That came after she knocked out former Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, the only player to beat Swiatek on clay this season.

It is an astonishing transformation for a player who had never gone beyond the second round of a major before the start of this year.

The world number 15 had won a total of four matches in 16 Grand Slam appearances before advancing to the fourth round of the Australian Open in January.

Now she is one win away from an improbable title as she tries to emulate compatriot Francesca Schiavone, who won the 2010 French Open. Paolini's doubles partner Sara Errani lost the 2012 final to Maria Sharapova.

'NEVER DREAMED SO BIG'

Paolini is the first Italian woman through to a Grand Slam final since Flavia Pennetta beat Roberta Vinci to win the 2015 US Open.

"I was watching the other Italians make it in the finals, and also won Grand Slams, but (to) imagine that can be myself was tough," said Paolini.

"Of course, I wished, but now it's something crazy for me. I'm really happy. Also surprised."

"I never dreamed to be, you know, No 1, Grand Slam champion. Never dreamed so big. Never," she added.

The question before the tournament was whether anyone could stop Swiatek, who arrived in Paris having won titles in Madrid and Rome.

Former world No 1 Naomi Osaka, on her least successful surface, had match point against Swiatek in the second round but could not finish the job.

Swiatek has rounded into top form since that scare, conceding a mere 14 games in four matches, and could become the 15th player in the Open era to win a major after saving a match point.

Her last defeat in Paris came to Maria Sakkari in the 2021 quarterfinals. Swiatek's only other loss here was in the fourth round of her French Open debut in 2019.

Swiatek's great idol Nadal won 31 straight matches before succumbing to Robin Soderling in his fifth visit to the tournament. In her sixth trip to Roland Garros, her win-loss record now reads 34-2.

She takes nothing for granted and is trying to just focus on delivering another accomplished performance.

"Sometimes, yeah, it's hard not to see what's at stake and what the atmosphere is around these matches. So still I'm not used to it. It's not the routine."

It's certainly uncharted territory for Paolini, who this time last year was playing a WTA 125 event, below the top tier, in Croatia.

The biggest moment of her career now lies before her, with the toughest current assignment in women's tennis standing between her and French Open glory.

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