Shriver: Kenin-Swiatek could be tennis' next great rivalry

American doubles legend breaks down the women's final match-up ahead of Saturday's intriguing showdown

Sofia Kenin, Roland Garros 2020, semi-final© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Ravi Ubha

The casual sports fan might not be overly familiar with Sofia Kenin and Iga Swiatek, who meet in the women’s final at Roland-Garros.

But Pam Shriver says they should definitely tune in Saturday.

“I think it could be an entertaining, great final,” Shriver, the doubles legend, singles Grand Slam finalist and longtime ESPN broadcaster, told

“We could have some great shot-making, great competitiveness and athleticism.

“We’re always wondering where the next great rivalry is going to be. Well, let’s just wonder about this one because they are two years apart.” 

Swiatek will be contesting her maiden Grand Slam final at 19 following a stellar junior career, while Kenin is 21.

It marks the pair’s first meeting in the top tier, four years removed from Swiatek’s third-round triumph over Kenin in the juniors at Roland-Garros when both were different players at earlier stages of their tennis journeys.

The close proximity in age belies their paths to the finale. 

The 54th-ranked Swiatek — the first Polish player in the Open Era to make the Roland-Garros final — has conceded only 23 games without losing a set. Her powerful forehand with spin has overwhelmed opponents.

Kenin, the reigning Australian Open champion, meanwhile has posted four three-set wins and overcame fellow Grand Slam winner Petra Kvitova in Thursday’s tight two-set semi-final.

Martina Navratilova, Pam Shriver, Roland Garros 1984, Double Dames© FFT

“If Swiatek’s forehand holds up in the pressure of a major final, that’s what is going to give her the best chance,” said Shriver. “Swiatek has an edge on the forehands. Kenin has shored up her forehand so much the last two years but it can still go a bit wobbly. But I guess we know how Kenin shows up in major finals and big matches because she did in Melbourne.”

Indeed battling and rising to the occasion are something the former junior No.2 does extremely well, aside from generating ample power of her own by standing on or near the baseline and using her rivals’ pace.  

Kenin lost her lone match on clay ahead of Roland-Garros 6-0, 6-0 to Victoria Azarenka — hardly the ideal preparation — and her turnaround wasn’t lost on Shriver.

“I don’t know who has won or even been to a final of a major the next tournament after losing love and love,” said Shriver. “That kind of shows you her mental strength again, so it’s kind of a hard match to break down for sure because I haven't seen the match-up.

“But you can kind of imagine the form they’ve had in the last few matches, Iga obviously the whole tournament.”

No one-hit wonder

Kenin has made adjustments this fortnight that could aid her in the final, according to another former player and veteran broadcaster, Sophie Amiach.

“I think she’s very adaptable to the surface,” said Amiach, formerly coached by pioneer Billie Jean King. “I watched her play at the beginning of the tournament and thought, there’s no way she is going to win this. She's playing 70 per cent down the line. This is not a hard court. You got to use the cross-court short. And little by little, if they were to look at her matches and where she was playing from day one to today, you’ll see a lot more cross-court play.

“I said I thought that maybe Kenin is a one-hit wonder but she’s showing that she’s not, which is great. I am nicely surprised.”

Swiatek sailing through the draw means she likely has ample physical reserves — even with going deep in doubles — but it raises the question: How will she respond in her first final at a major if doubles quarter-finalist Kenin starts better or wins the first set?

“What a problem to have!” said Shriver.

Andrea Hlavackova reached the doubles final at Roland-Garros unseeded in 2011 and without surrendering a set, like Swiatek. The Czech said she and partner Lucie Hradecka never pondered that ‘what if’ scenario.

“We never had that in our mind,” Hlavackova said. “If the match starts a little bit on the wrong foot, you might get a little worried and think like, ‘Until now it’s been going so smooth'. But at the same time, she’s saved a lot of energy.”

Hlavackova and Hradecka won their final, in straight sets.

If Saturday’s contest goes the distance, the numbers align with Kenin, however.

She holds a 10-3 record in third sets this year, winning her last six at Grand Slams, compared to Swiatek’s third-set tally of 1-1 at majors in 2020.

An amazing achievement for both to get to the final but one will be happier come Saturday night in Paris.