Swiatek v Gauff: Where the match can be won

 - Simon Cambers

Join us on a tactical deep dive into Saturday's women's singles final

Top seed Iga Swiatek takes on 18th seed Coco Gauff in a mouth-watering final at Roland-Garros on Saturday; a clash that promises to be full of hard-hitting, aggressive returning and stunning athleticism.

For world No.1 Swiatek, it’s the chance to win the title for the second time in three years, the icing on the cake after an incredible run which has seen the Pole win 34 straight matches and five consecutive titles.

For 18-year-old Gauff, it’s a first Grand Slam singles final and the opportunity to become the first American to win Roland-Garros since Serena Williams in 2015 and only the fourth American woman – other than Serena and Venus Williams – to win a Slam this century.

Here’s a tactical breakdown of how the final might unfold.

The backhand-to-backhand battle

If Gauff wants to win and cause the upset, then she’ll need to avoid the Swiatek forehand.

The Pole dominates matches from the centre of the court, her supreme footwork allowing her to get round more balls than most and crunch the forehand either way.

It doesn’t have to be a winner. Though she’s hit 77 forehand winners in six matches, to just the 33 of Gauff, she also uses it so well to create pressure, position on the court and finish off points.

But it’s the backhand-to-backhand battle that could yet prove crucial.

Gauff’s backhand is more secure than her forehand, which can yield errors when she’s under pressure. It's also a big weapon. She’s hit 38 winners on the backhand side, compared to 34 for Swiatek. But she’s also safer with it, having made just 37 unforced errors to the 60 of Swiatek.

Getting in a position to rally cross-court and start to work over the Swiatek backhand might be the tough part, but the American has power and the movement to get to most balls, so this could be a crucial part of the battle.

The Gauff second serve

Gauff has a tendency to get a bit tight on second serve at times, and the double faults can flow.

The American has hit a total of 33 double faults in six matches and against someone like Swiatek, that could be fatal. The Pole has been all over the second serves of her opponents so far, winning 66 per cent of points.

Gauff, by contrast, is winning just 45 percent of points on her own second serve. She lands her first serve 68 per cent of the time and wins the point 70 per cent of the time on first serve. But when she misses, she’s going to be under attack.

Swiatek’s also been rock solid on her own serve. So though Gauff’s been winning a whopping 68 per cent of points on her opponents’ second serves, the Pole is winning 63 per cent on her own second serve.

Gauff has more power on serve than most of Swiatek’s victims so far – she averages 164kmh on first serve to 151kmh of Swiatek – but something has to give when these two clash.

Coco Gauff, Roland Garros 2022, semi-final© Amélie Laurin/FFT

Past history an indicator?

There is very little to choose between these two, in terms of stats. Both have dominated their opponents, with Swiatek losing one set and Gauff sailing through to the final without dropping a set.

The pair have met twice before, with Swiatek winning both, one in Miami earlier this year, a 6-3, 6-1 win for the Pole; and the other in Rome last year, when Gauff pushed her to 7-6(3), 6-3.

That was the first time Gauff showed that she might be a real contender on clay but she’s come on leaps and bounds again this past fortnight to the point where she’s a win away from winning her first Grand Slam title.

In a Slam final, with so much at stake, the tendency is to go for the more experienced player and even though Swiatek has just turned 21, she has a lot more experience at the back end of slams than Gauff.

But the American has been riding a wave here and the way she’s also conducted herself off court, with incredible maturity when discussing difficult topics, and the way she’s also been succeeding in doubles, may just serve her well.

There are echoes, indeed, of when Swiatek won the title in 2020; then, she went close to winning the doubles title too and the effect of playing every day took away some of the likelihood of nerves creeping in. Gauff will hope the same thing happens for her.