Kasatkina hopes to climb the mountain against Swiatek

 - Chris Oddo

After a career breakthrough in Paris, the No.20 seed prepares for the ultimate challenge

Daria Kasatkina, quart de finale, Roland-Garros 2022©Cedric Lecocq / FFT

Daria Kasatkina, like every other player on the WTA tour of late, has come up empty when trying to solve the puzzling equation that Iga Swiatek’s bristling brand of tennis creates.

The Pole hits a devilish ball that is often too hot to handle, blankets the court with brutal efficiency, and smothers her opponents with her all-out attacking brand of tennis. 

The 2020 Roland-Garros champion has been unstoppable in 2022, racking up 33 consecutive wins for the third-longest winning streak on the women's tour this century, and is showing no signs of a dip as she makes a beeline for a second Grand Slam title this week in Paris.

What can Kasatkina, who has managed just 11 games across three meetings with Swiatek this season, possibly do to change the lopsided nature of their recent encounters? 

That is the rugged terrain the 2014 Roland-Garros girls’ singles champion must climb to reach a maiden Grand Slam final this weekend in the French capital.

“I know that tomorrow, it's another mountain in front of me which I have to climb and that's it,” she said after slipping past Veronika Kudermetova to reach her maiden Grand Slam semi-final on Wednesday, 6-4, 7-6(5). 

Clearly elated by achieving her best ever Slam result, Kasatkina must now accomplish the task of ignoring her euphoria to focus on the daunting task at hand. 

>> Swiatek v Kasatkina: A tactical breakdown

“I have no time to relax, I'm playing already tomorrow,” she said. “Maybe it's even better that I don't have much time to think about how good it is to be in the semi-finals - I have another battle tomorrow.” 

A different match on clay?

Kasatkina is upbeat about her chances against Swiatek, despite the fact that she dropped three encounters against her in a two-month span earlier this season, at the Australian Open, Dubai and Doha. 

“We played a few times this year,” Kasatkina said of the world No.1. “Okay, I lost those matches, but it was a different story. It was a hard court, beginning of the year, I was not in the same shape as I am now. 

“It's going to be a completely different match. I want to win a lot, she wants to win as well, and it's going to be a good match. You never know what's going to happen in the semi-final of a Grand Slam.”

Swiatek, who improved to 19-2 lifetime at Roland-Garros on Wednesday with her 6-3, 6-2 victory over Jessica Pegula, is bidding to become the first player in the Open Era to win multiple Roland-Garros women’s singles titles while 21 or younger since Monica Seles in 1991. 

She expects to see a different Kasatkina across the net this time around, but still believes she can benefit from her three recent victories over the world No.20.

“I want to use the experience that I have, and also I know her game style pretty well and I know her strokes, how I feel them on my racquet, so that's pretty positive,” said the top-seeded Pole. 

“But I don't really want to become overconfident. I don't think it's going to happen because it's a semi-final of a Grand Slam and she really deserves, with her game, to be here.

"I feel like she's playing even more solid than she was, and she already played really solid.” 

Two clay wizards

If there is a window for Kasatkina to crawl through against Swiatek, it will start with her clay-court prowess. She told reporters that she would rather face Swiatek on clay, because she is more comfortable on the surface. 

Kasatkina is 17-6 lifetime at Roland-Garros, and 12-3 on the surface this year. 

“I think for me it's better to face her on clay,” she said. “Also, I now have a good run on clay, so I feel good here.” 

Daria Kasatkina, Roland-Garros 2022, Simple Dames, 1/8 de Finale, Cedric Lecocq / FFT

But the same logic works for Swiatek. The Pole is 40-6 lifetime on her favourite surface, and 14-0 this season. She was asked if she felt that Kasatkina might be a more challenging opponent on Thursday because of her comfort level on clay. 

Her answer spoke volumes about her confidence - here at Roland-Garros and everywhere else. 

“I feel like it's also my best surface, so maybe it's going to be even. But I'm not really thinking about that yet,” Swiatek said.

“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.”