Swiatek v Kasatkina: Where the match can be won

 - Simon Cambers

A tactical deep dive into this highly-anticipated semi-final match-up

World No.1 Iga Swiatek meets Daria Kasatkina in the semi-finals at Roland-Garros on Thursday, a chance for the Pole to reach the final for the second time in three years and Kasatkina to make the final of a Grand Slam for the first time.

Swiatek is on a 33-match winning streak as she tries to add to her 2020 title while Kasatkina is in new territory after a superb return to form in the past 12 months following two years in the wilderness.

This is the fifth meeting between the two, with Swiatek leading 3-1.

All three of Swiatek's wins over Kasatkina came within the space of a month in early 2022 and all were in straight sets. But Thursday will be their first meeting on clay.

Here’s a tactical look at where the match might be won.

How will Kasatkina cope on serve against the Swiatek return?

If there is a weak spot in the Kasatkina game, it is undoubtedly the serve, where her relatively slow second serve can sit up, asking to be hit.

Through her five matches so far this fortnight, Kasatkina has averaged 133kmh on her first serve, and just 108kmh on her second. By comparison, Swiatek has averaged 159kmh on first serve and 131 on her second.

Remarkably, though, she’s won more than half of points on her second serve at 53 per cent, anticipating the attack from the returner and generally dealing well with it.

Daria Kasatkina, Roland Garros 2022, fourth round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

However, Swiatek has become a more aggressive returner this year, looking to get on the offensive from the off. It’s working, too, for she’s won 63 per cent of points on her opponent’s second serve.

When they played in their three meetings this year, Swiatek dominated each match, going after the Kasatkina serve as often as she could.

The pressure will be on Kasatkina to make as many first serves as possible but if she can, her chances of success will be higher. This year at Roland-Garros, she has won 67 per cent of the points when her first serve lands, while Swiatek has won 48 per cent of points on her opponent’s first serve.

"I know that she's playing a little bit differently on clay court so I have to also adjust to that. But my main key for me is to just play my tennis and play aggressively and try to dominate from the beginning," said Swiatek on Wednesday.

Iga Swiatek, Roland-Garros 2022, Simple Dames, 1/8 de Finale, Cedric Lecocq / FFT

Who will win the longer rallies?

Given the style of the two players, there may well be plenty of long exchanges, especially if Kasatkina can successfully soak up the pace of the Swiatek groundstrokes and move the Pole around, perhaps using her brilliant drop shots to keep her off balance.

Sometimes Kasatkina looks like she’s hardly moving, but she glides around the court rather than races and her speed is deceptive.

However, if she’s going to do well, she probably needs to keep the rallies short, which might mean being more aggressive than usual.

The majority of points in tennis are won in 0-4 shots, even on clay. Swiatek has been superb in the shorter points, winning 222 and losing 161. Kasatkina’s not far behind, with 126/105.

But when the rallies go on, Swiatek has been even more dominant in her five matches so far. In rallies of 5-8 shots, she’s won 93 and lost 52, compared to a 66-47 win-loss mark for Kasatkina.

And the biggest differential of all comes when rallies get to nine or above, with Swiatek winning 51 and losing just 29, compared to 38-32 for Kasatkina.

Note to Kasatkina: stay away from those longer rallies!

Iga Swiatek, Roland Garros 2022, birthday, scooter© Jean-Charles Caslot/FFT

Can Kasatkina frustrate Swiatek into making mistakes?

In the past five months, as Swiatek has elevated herself to the world No.1, winning 33 straight matches in the process, she seems to have added pace and spin on her forehand.

But Kasatkina might just take heart from the way Swiatek was tested in her fourth-round match by Zheng Qinwen. In that encounter, the forehand was a weapon, but it also coughed up a lot of errors.

The difficulty for Kasatkina is to find the right balance. Swiatek’s hit more winners on her forehand than she has; 63 to 47, but she’s also made far more mistakes.

The Pole has made 60 unforced errors on her forehand in five matches, more against Zheng than in any other match. Kasatkina, on the other hand, has made 37 unforced errors on her forehand.

On the backhand, Kasatkina may just have an advantage. Swiatek’s hit 29 winners and made 54 unforced errors, to the 21 backhand winners for Kasatkina and 24 unforced errors.