Dreams Do Come True, Swiatek Rolls To First Major Final

WASHINGTON, October 9, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Throughout this Parisian fortnight, 19-year-old Iga Swiatek has proved that dreams do come true. Over the course of 70 blustery minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Thursday afternoon, the Polish teen from Warsaw dominated her overmatched opponent, 131st-ranked qualifier Nadia Podoroska of Argentina, 6-2, 6-1.

By winning, the 54th-ranked Swiatek (pronounced Shvee-ON-tek) became the first woman from Poland to make the Roland Garros final – not only in the Open Era but in 81 years. Not since 1939 when Jadwiga Jedrzejowska lost to Simonne Mathieu of France (the namesake of a court at Roland Garros) has Poland been represented in the women’s singles final at the French Open.

On Saturday, she will face No. 4 seed Sofia Kenin of the United States for the Roland Garros women’s singles title. The 21-year-old Kenin advanced with an impressive 6-4, 7-5 win over seventh seed and two-time Grand Slam champion Petra Kvitova from the Czech Republic. Kenin will be looking to win her second major title of 2020 while Swiatek is searching for both her first WTA tour-level title and first Grand Slam crown.

“I’m kind of surprised really,” said Swiatek during an on-court interview following her victory. “Before the tournament, I didn’t think I could play so good here. On the other hand, I always knew that if I’m going to be in the final of a Grand Slam, it’s going to the be the final of the French Open. So, I’m very happy. It’s like a dream come true.”

Coming in, Swiatek (9-1 lifetime at the French Open) had spent half as much time as Podoroska on court and had not dropped a set – or more than four games – in her earlier victories over No. 15 seed Marketa Vondrousova, Hsieh Su-Wei, wild card Eugenie Bouchard, top seed Simona Halep and qualifier Martina Trevisan. Meanwhile, Podoroska, 23, who was trying to become the first Argentinian woman to make the French Open final and first qualifier to make a major final in the Open Era. She came into the semifinal riding high on a 13-match winning streak.

As it happened, Swiatek dominated from the first game forward. She broke Podoroska in the Argentine’s first service game and took a quick 3-0 lead, which she increased to 4-1 and later 5-2. Then, Swiatek won the set with her second break of the match on her third break-point opportunity of the eighth game.

Swiatek jumped out to a 4-0 advantage in the second set before she was broken for the only time. Soon, she closed out the match by winning the final two games, including on her first match point try when Podoroska weakly hit a backhand return into the net. After three qualifiers and six main draw matches, Podoroska’s excellent run in Paris had come to an end.

“I wanted to play this match as if it was a first-round because I didn’t want to think I was in a semifinal because it would stress me,” said Swiatek. “I just wanted to be aggressive like previous matches. I’m feeling good and like nothing hurts me.”

Pouring over the statistics, Swiatek won 70 percent of her first-serve points and backed it with a 67-percent efficiency on her second serve. She hit 23 winners and 20 unforced errors and was broken just once. Podoroska struggled with her serve throughout, winning just 42 percent of her first serves and 38 percent of her second serves. She was broken five times and hit just six winners while committing 20 unforced errors. Swiatek outpointed Podoroska 61-34.

Later, Swiatek was asked during her videoconference about how she reacted after she secured match point. She said: “It seems unreal. On one hand, I know that I can play great tennis. On the other hand, it’s kind of surprising for me. I never would have thought that I’m going to be in the final. It’s crazy.”

Also, Swiatek, who graduated high school earlier this year, explained she’s been working with sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz, 33, a Warsaw native like her pupil. The way in which Swiatek has dealt with pressure throughout the duration of this Grand Slam – round by round – has been her reward.

“I always wanted to work with a psychologist because I had this belief that it’s like a big part of the game,”Swiatek said. “But my parents, like, they weren’t as open to that as I was. Actually, I don’t know where that came from, to be honest.

With one more match to go, Swiatek has yet to really be challenged by any of her six opponents.“I feel like I’ve been so efficient and so focused for whole matches that I put a lot of pressure on my opponents. I’m not even nervous in second sets because I know it’s going to probably go my way,” she said.

“It’s going to be different in a final because I’m going to play a much more experienced player. I will need to be on a different level, the higher level, even though I’m winning easily right now.”

Kenin improves to 16-1 in majors this year

Kenin’s victory over Kvitova improved her record in 2020 majors to 16-1 with her only blemish coming at the US Open last month. The 21-year-old American, who had never advanced beyond the quarterfinals in a clay-court event, broke out to a double-break lead at 4-1 en route to winning the opening set in 39 minutes.

Then, Kenin pushed ahead 3-2 with a break of Kvitova’s serve in the fifth game of the second set. She fought off four break points during an 11-minute sixth game and held for a 4-2 advantage Ahead 5-4, Kenin was broken while serving for the match, but she broke back in the next game and served out the victory. The second semifinal lasted one hour and 45 minutes.

During her post-match interview on court with French TV, Kenin praised Kvitova. “She’s such a tough player, she’s got a great aggressive game, a huge serve, so I knew I needed to bring my great game in order to win,” she said. “I’m just super proud of myself, it was a great match and I’m just super happy.”

Kenin hit 23 winners and 20 unforced errors. She saved 10 of the 12 break points she faced from Kvitova. Meanwhile, she broke the Czech four times in five tries. Kvitova finished 2ith 28 winners but made 31 unforced errors. Kenin outpointed Kvitova 75-71.

“I’ve done it in Australia, I’ve had really tough matches these past two weeks So, I’m just excited to be in the final and I think it’s just incredible,” said Kenin. “I’m going to enjoy this moment and start getting ready for the final tomorrow.”

Later on, during her video conference, Kenin was asked what it means for her to reach two Grand Slam finals in 2020. She said: “It’s so special, honestly. I’m just really grateful with the way I’m playing, with the way things are going. Yeah, I mean, it’s not easy getting to a Grand Slam final. Having two this year, it’s really special.”

Passer des coups

• Reigning US Open champions Mate Pavic of Croatia and Bruno Soares from Brazil have reached their first Roland Garros final as a team. The No. 7 seeds defeated No. 1 seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, both from Colombia, 7-6 (4), 7-5. Pavic and Soares broke their opponents three times during the one hour and 44-minute match on Court Suzanne-Lenglen and outpointed Cabal and Farah 84-75. In Saturday’s final, they will face defending French Open champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies, both of Germany. The No. 8 seeds beat No. 9 seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Nikola Mektic from Croatia, 6-3, 7-5 in one hour and 26 minutes. Krawietz and Mies outpointed their opponents 72-58 and saved each of the break points they faced. The men’s final is scheduled for Saturday.

• On Friday, the women’s doubles semifinals will take place on Court Suzanne-Lenglen. First, defending champions and No. 2 seeds Timea Babos of Hungary and Kristina Mladenovic from France will oppose No. 4 seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova. The second semifinal will match No. 14 seeds Alexa Guarachi of Chile and Desirae Krawczyk from the United States against American Nicole Melichar and Iga Swiatek of Poland. Swiatek is trying to become the first player since Mary Pierce in 2004 to win both the French Open singles and doubles titles in the same year. The women’s doubles final is set for Sunday.

By the numbers

• Iga Swiatek’s 23 games lost over her first six matches is the fewest lost en route to a first Grand Slam final since Mary Pierce, who lost just 10 during the 1994 French Open. She’s also just the seventh unseeded Roland Garros finalist in the Open Era.

• The last Polish woman to reach a major final was Agnieszka Radwanska at Wimbledon in 2012.

• Sofia Kenin will be going for her third title of 2020 when she plays Swiatek. In addition to winning the Australian Open, she also won the title at Lyon before the WTA’s five-month hiatus began in March.

• Swiatek and Kenin have some shared history. They faced each other in the third round of the 2016 French Open junior girls’ event, which was won by Swiatek 6-4, 7-5.

Now it can be told

Stefanos Tsitsipas, who won the NextGen ATP Finals title two years ago and faces Novak Djokovic in the second men’s singles semifinal on Friday, was asked Wednesday if he believes that the next winner of a Grand Slam could be a NextGen. He said: “First of all, I would like to tell you that I’m not a NextGen player any more. I’m a proper adult (smiling).

“Second of all, for sure, it’s going to come at some point. I mean, let’s face it. Yeah, the Big Three have been there for a long time. I don’t feel like it’s going to be the same in five, six years’ time, I believe.

“Third of all, I’m happy to be playing well enough, also be part of something so special. I don’t know, NextGen is not NextGen any more. We are all young. I guess you can call it that way.”

What they’re sharing on social media

Katerina Siniakova / On her day off in Paris

Happy 27th Birthday, Garbiñe Muguruza!