No Easy Journey To Major Final, Just Ask Kenin And Swiatek

Sofia Kenin (photo: @rolandgarros/Twitter)

WASHINGTON, October 10, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

What began with 128 players in the women’s singles draw a fortnight ago has pared down to just two at Roland Garros: Sofia Kenin and Iga Swiatek. They will walk out on Court Philippe-Chatrier Saturday afternoon at 3 o’clock to play for the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen. It’s been no easy journey for either competitor.

Kenin, 21, born in Moscow and emigrated to the United States with her Russian parents, won her first major title earlier this year by capturing the Australian Open and, later, reached the fourth round of the US Open. The World No. 6, who resides and trains in Florida, is going for her second major of the year – the last to win two in a season was Angelique Kerber in 2016 – and third title of 2020 at the French Open.

Meanwhile, the 54th-ranked Swiatek from Warsaw is just 19 and recently matriculated from high school. Appearing in her first Grand Slam final, she’s the first Polish woman to advance to the Roland Garros title match – not only in the Open Era but also in 81 years.

“It’s not easy getting to a Grand Slam final,” the fourth seed Kenin said after she beat seventh seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in a semifinal Thursday, 6-4, 7-5. It improved her record in majors to 16-1. “Having two this year, it’s really special.” 

Kenin has been nothing if not consistent this year as her 24-8 win-loss record in all competitions attests. Yet, just two weeks before the start of Roland Garros, she was double-bagelled 6-0, 6-0 by Victoria Azarenka at the Italian Open in Rome on clay. It may have been just the wake-up call she needed. Although she was tested in the early rounds in Paris and needed three sets to beat Ludmilla Samsonova and Ana Bogdan – and later by Fiona Ferro in the round of 16 and by Danielle Collins in the quarterfinals – Kenin has remained focused and never given up on herself. She’s been a problem-solving winner.

As for Swiatek, she’s emerged as the biggest surprise of the women’s draw, after beating qualifier Nadia Podoroska of Argentina, 6-2, 6-1, in her semifinal Thursday. She became the lowest-ranked finalist at the French Open since the WTA began computer rankings in 1975. The Polish teen won all six of her matches leading up to the final in straight sets – including an upset of World No. 2 Simona Halep, the tournament’s top seed, 6-1, 6-2 – and has dropped just 23 games, which is the fewest since Mary Pierce lost 10 games during her 1994 run to the final. Plus, Swiatek has shown a tremendous forehand return and generally has been unflappable on the court. She’s held in 78 percent of her service games and won 84 percent of her return games.

On Thursday, Kenin was complimentary of her opponent, saying of Swiatek: “Of course, she’s playing some great tennis, having great results. … She got to the final. She’s had some great wins. I’m sure she has a lot of confidence and is super excited for the final. I’m hoping that with my experience from Melbourne, it will help me for Saturday’s final.”

And what does Swiatek think about playing in her first Grand Slam final? During her videoconference that followed her semifinal win on Thursday, she said: “I’m going to be, like, an underdog, if you could say something about that, to the finalist. Yeah, it’s going to be a tough match. 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. 

“It’s going to be different in a final because I’m going to play much more experienced players. I will need to be on a different level, the higher level, even though I’m winning easily right now. Usually, I’m that kind of player who is playing better under pressure. If I’m not going to choke up, I think everything will be fine.”

Djokovic-Tsitsipas in words and pictures

With Novak Djokovic’s 6-3, 6-2 5-7, 4-6, 6-1 triumph over Stefanos Tsitsipas during Friday night’s second men’s singles semifinal, it set up the World No. 1’s 16th major head-to-head against 12-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal – and their 56th overall – for Sunday afternoon at Roland Garros.

After the Djokovic-Tsitsipas match, both competitors spoke to the media virtually.

Djokovic:  “I was very pleased with the way I kept my composure mentally throughout the entire match. I did feel that even though I lost the third and fourth [sets], I still felt like I was the better player on the court. I had more control. I just felt comfortable playing. 

“Credit to him for fighting back. He just played terrific tennis, especially in the fourth set when he was facing break points. I had many opportunities to break his serve in the fourth and finish the match earlier. 

“He’s a fighter He’s one of the best players in the world. Deservedly so. Obviously he was also fighting for his first Grand Slam final. Of course, there was a lot at stake for him. He was motivated to try to turn the match around, which he did very well. 

“But in the end, I think he ran out of gas. That’s when I stepped it up, used my opportunities when they were presented in the fifth, and closed out the match in a great fashion.”

Tsitsipas: “Well, I fell, I can say, happy and at the same time sad. Could have been a better result for me today. Novak showed once again what an incredible athlete and his ability on the courts. 

“Was difficult, for sure, playing him. I think one of the most difficult opponents I’ve faced in my entire life. I have huge respect for that.

“He gave me a really difficult time on the court. Unfortunately, towards the end of the match, an injury that I had during my match in Rome came back. It was difficult to close the match in a fighting way, in a fighting spirit.

“But I tried my best despite all of this. I’m happy that I came back form sets to love down and tried to stay in the match as long as possible.”

Passer des coups

• It took six match points and two hours and 29 minutes, but defending French Open women’s doubles champions Timea Babos of Hungary and Kristina Mladenovic from France, seeded No. 2 this year, held off No. 4 seeds and 2018 champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, both from the Czech Republic, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5. The final game took 18 points to decide and lasted more than 10 minutes.

• The second women’s doubles semifinal was won by No. 14 seeds Alexa Guarachi of Chile and Desirae Krawczyk from the United States, who defeated unseeded Nicole Melichar of the United States and Iga Swiatek from Poland, 7-6 (5), 1-6, 6-4 to reach their first Grand Slam final. The winners were down a break three different times in the deciding set and broke Melichar and Swiatek to win the match.

Guarachi and Krawczyk, who won a clay-court tune up last month in Istanbul, upset the World No. 1 and top-seeded team of Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan and Barbora Strycova from the Czech Republic in the round of 16.

• The last time a Swiss boy won the French Open junior boys’ title was in 2003 by Stan Wawrinka. This year, there are two boys from Switzerland who have reached the final: No. 7 seed Dominic Stephan Stricker and No. 8 seed Leandro Riedi. Each won their semifinal-round matches on Friday to set up an all-Swiss final. Stricker defeated Juan Bautista Torres of Argentina, 6-0, 5-7, 6-0, and Riedi beat Guy Den Ouden of the Netherlands, 6-3, 6-1.

Stricker told the Roland Garros website about hitting with Roger Federer back home in January: “He means pretty much to me. it’s great to see how he is playing and how his attitude is toward the sport. To have someone like him in the same country, and also to have Stan [Wawrinka], to have two of the greatest players, is great.”

• Advancing to the junior girls’ final are No. 3 seed Elsa Jacquemot of France, who beat No. 2 seed Alexandra Eala of the Philippines, 6-3, 6-2, and unseeded Alina Charaeva of Russia, a 6-7 (5), 6-2, 7-5 winner over No. 4 seed Polona Kudermetova of Russia, younger sister of Russian pro Veronika Kudermetova.

“I am super proud to be in the final”, Jacquemot told the Roland Garros website. “For a French player in France, this is super cool.”

Wheelchair tournament

• No. 2 seed Yui Kamiji of Japan, defeated Momoko Ohtani, also of Japan, 6-2, 6-1 to win the women’s wheelchair singles final.

• No. 2 seeds Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid, both from Great Britain, defeated Gustavo Fernandez of Argentina and Shinto Kunieda from Japan, 7-6 (4), 1-6, 10-3, to win the men’s wheelchair doubles final.

• The quad wheelchair men’s doubles final was won by Sam Schroeder of the Netherlands and David Wagner from the United States over Dylan Alcott of Australia and Andy Lapthorne from Great Britain, 4-6, 7-5, 10-8.

By the numbers

• When Rafael Nadal won the opening set 6-3 against Diego Schwartzman, it meant that the Spaniard had never lost the first set in a Roland Garros semifinal. He’s 13-0 in semifinals.

• On Sunday, Nadal will attempt to become the second man after Novak Djokovic in the Open Era to win Grand Slam titles in three different decades (2000s, 2010s, 2020s).

• Going into Sunday’s Roland Garros final, Nadal brings with him: 99 career wins at Roland Garros, 998 career wins, 85 career ATP Tour-level titles and 19 Grand Slam titles.

• Sofia Kenin (21) and Iga Swiatek (19) comprise the first Grand Slam final between two 21-and-under players since the 2008 Australian Open (Maria Sharapova, 20; Ana Ivanovic, 20). Swiatek is also the first player born in 2001 or later to reach a Grand Slam final.

What they’re saying

Iga Swiatek, who was attempting to become the first woman since Mary Pierce in 2004 to win both the French Open singles and doubles titles in the same year, said after her semifinal doubles loss on Friday:

“I tend to get a little bit more frustrated in doubles because I feel like I’m playing also for my partner. It’s some new pressure for me because I’m not used to that.

“I’m going to be okay on singles. Singles is totally different story.

“Mentally I’ll be okay on singles because I’m preparing every day to play my best tennis. I don’t have days off, so I’m really staying in the rhythm.

“I think this match on Saturday can be really long, so I think it’s good that I played some points under pressure.”

What they’re writing

In “Sofia Kenin: From Rome zero zero to Roland-Garros hero,”Simon Cambers of Tennis Majorswrites about three weeks after being double-bagelled by Victoria Azarenka in Rome, American Sofia Kenin has shown she has the mental resilience of a Grand Slam champion.”

Now it can be told

• On Sunday, Rafael Nadal will have chance to tie Roger Federer for most Grand Slam singles titles in the Open Era with 20. Nadal was asked about during his videoconference Friday after his semifinal victory against Diego Schwartzman. He said: “I live my reality. When we finish, we talk about that. For me, what matters at the moment is that I will play the final of the most important tournament of the year for me.”

• Diego Schwartzman was asked to compare the Big Three (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic): He said:“I’m not going to say who is the better. But I can say the most beautiful thing about these three guys is how different are these guys on court and outside the court. They are really different.”

What they’re sharing on social media