Swiatek, Gauff set for final show

Polish 2020 champion and American 2018 girls' winner target further success on Paris' terre battue

Iga Swiatek, Roland Garros 2022, semi-final© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Cast your mind back to Roland-Garros 2018, Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff were just one point away from facing each other in the girls’ final. 

Swiatek let a match point slip to Caty McNally, who was then defeated by Gauff in the final.

Just a few weeks later Swiatek reigned supreme at SW19 to win junior Wimbledon.

A lot has changed since then and on Saturday, these versatile and multifaceted talents will vie for the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen at Roland-Garros.

Swiatek, fired up by listening to Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses, is rock 'n’ rolling on a 34-match winning streak. Gauff, gearing up for action with a rap playlist, is hoping to pull off a clean sweep across singles and doubles.

For world No.1 Swiatek, the emotions came pouring out after dismissing Daria Kasatkina 6-2, 6-1 in the semi-finals.  

“Being able to be in the final again, it's great, especially when I didn't know actually how I'm gonna play here after so many tournaments that I played,” said Swiatek, who is looking to become the first woman to collect six consecutive titles since Justine Henin in 2007-08 this weekend.

“It seemed kind of obvious for me that the streak may come to an end soon. So I just wanted to take it step by step. I didn't have any exact goals on this tournament.

“Just seeing how my game is developing every match, it's something that's giving me a lot of hope, and I'm just proud of myself.”

The stats keep pinging around social media and the expectations have been soaring since Swiatek set foot on the terre battue in Paris.

“It was extremely difficult, and it didn't work at the beginning,” admitted the 2020 champion. “For sure when I got past some difficult situations it got a little bit easier.

“I couldn't get rid of the expectations fully, but I tried to accept that, that they are going to be there and it's going to stress me a little bit more.

“Kind of lean on just the physical or technical part of tennis, that I have skills actually even when I'm a little bit more stressed to win matches, and that really helped me during the fourth-round match (against Zheng Qinwen).

“After that, I felt like I can really loosen up a little bit more, because I already did at least what I have done last year."

For Gauff, the Floridian teen is also contending with hype and a raft of stats. The 18-year-old is the youngest Roland-Garros finalist since Kim Clijsters in 2001.

As ever, the world No.23 is taking it all in her stride, determined to maintain her motto of staying in the moment and enjoying herself.

“Definitely means a lot. I'm so happy, I wasn't expecting it. I'm going to be honest. This year I hadn't had the best results going into this,” reflected the American, who was 14-10 win-loss in 2022 coming into Roland-Garros.

“I feel like I've learned sooner how to handle myself in certain situations than other players have. But I think I'm still learning day in and day out.”

Gauff, in a maiden Grand Slam singles final, will embrace the underdog tag on Court Philippe-Chatrier. 

“She’s on a streak right now and I think going in I have nothing to lose and she's definitely the favourite going into the match on paper,” added the grounded 18-year-old.

“I'm just going to play free and play my best tennis. I think in a Grand Slam final anything can happen.

“If I do lift the trophy, I don't think my life is going to change really. The people who love me are still going to love me regardless if I lift the trophy or not.

“Now I'm definitely ready to win one (Grand Slam) but I'm not putting pressure on myself. I think there's a fine line between believing in yourself and almost pushing yourself too much.”

Gauff is going to have to derail the momentum of the top seed, who has claimed 54 of her last 56 sets and is an expert at navigating finals. Swiatek is 8-1 in finals, winning her last 16 consecutive sets in title deciders.

"I think definitely capitalise on the opportunities I'm given. She's not going to give you many,” explained Gauff. “Watching her play, I think she does a great job of changing direction and hitting angles off the court, she's always hitting winners.

“But I'm going to try to be aggressive at the right moments and patient at the right moments. I played her in Miami, and I think sometimes I made some unforced errors in some unnecessary times.”

Swiatek prevailed 6-3, 6-1 in Miami back in March and also won their first clash, which went 7-6(3), 6-3 on the clay of Rome last summer.

“I'm pretty happy that she's doing well, because I think she's also had huge amount of pressure in her life, and being always like the youngest one and the one that is supposed to be the future, it must have been tough,” stated Swiatek.

“From what I see on court, she's developing every year basically. When I see her, I tend to forget that she's 18. She's playing really consistent. You can see her progressing, and I think that's the most important thing.”