Semi-final preview: Swiatek v Podoroska

 - Alex Sharp

Both the Polish youngster and Argentine qualifier are seeking a maiden Grand Slam final.

Every Grand Slam throws up a plethora of inspiring, heart-warming and surprising stories.

The women’s semi-final line-up has the feel-good factor in abundance.

Take the top half of the draw and you find 2018 junior doubles champion Iga Swiatek fulfilling her potential on the women's tour.

The 19-year-old, who dismantled top seed Simona Halep, is the first Polish woman to advance to the Roland-Garros semi-finals in the Open Era (she is also into the doubles semis alongside Nicole Melichar).

It’s a fortnight of firsts.

That’s echoed by Nadia Podoroska. The 23-year-old Argentine started 2020 ranked No.255 but has won a staggering 43 matches in this truncated campaign to burst onto the major stage.

Playing in just her second ever Grand Slam main draw, Podoroska is the first qualifier in the Open Era to reach the Roland-Garros women's semi-finals, and is the first woman from Argentina to make the last four at a major since Paula Suarez in Paris in 2004.

Two brilliant players, two superb stories.


Unsurprisingly this will be the duo’s first-ever meeting.

Swiatek, in just her second Roland-Garros main draw, completed her school studies during lockdown earlier this year and certainly plays a smart game, well beyond her years.

Her rise to the upper echelons has been pretty rapid.

At Roland-Garros 2018, the Pole won the girls' doubles title alongside Caty McNally, prior to becoming junior Wimbledon singles champion just one month later.

Accelerating to the pro ranks, the 19-year-old made the fourth round at Roland-Garros last summer on debut. That was a painful 6-1, 6-0 demolition at the hands of Halep.

It wasn’t a one-off - an Australian Open 2020 second-week place and a third-round showing at the recent US Open portrayed the Pole’s rise.

This is another step up for Swiatek, but a whole new platform for Podoroska.

The 23-year-old last competed in a Grand Slam in New York in 2016.

Since then a multitude of injuries and loss of belief in the tennis wilderness have forced the Alicante based Argentine to reconfigure.

A new coaching set-up at the turn of the year clicked and after putting in the hard yards in lockdown, Podoroska has burst onto the scene since the restart.

The 23-year-old, playing at a career-high No.131, has compiled an impressive 22-3 record since the return of tennis, including a semi-final spot at the $125k tournament in Prague, ahead of a title triumph in the ITF Saint-Malo $60K last month.

Where the match can be won

Swiatek has been listening to Guns N Roses’ ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ as her walkout music and the Pole is personifying that hard rock soundtrack.

Heavy shots, playing to an almost rhythmic drum beat, the teenager is completely in the groove, sparking 20 winners past Martina Trevisan on Tuesday night

Podoroska is more adept at the net, charging forward 27 times in her straight-sets triumph over third seed Elina Svitolina, with success on 17 occasions.

Perhaps the Argentine will have to be even more active up at the net, but at this stage both players are striking superbly, and are capable of a full repertoire of shots.

A massive factor will be the mentality. Can Swiatek, who works with a sports psychologist, flourish as the favourite while dealing with the heavy weight of expectations? She certainly did in the quarters to dispatch qualifier Martina Trevisan 6-3, 6-1.

Podoroska has also done a lot of work with a mental coach this past year. She, excuse the cliché, has nothing to lose and should continue to swing freely. 

Clarity of thought will be the key.  

Key stats

The 54th-ranked Swiatek has driven through the draw without dropping a set.

Her five triumphs include taking down 2019 finalist Marketa Vondrousova 6-1, 6-2, Hsieh Su-Wei and Eugenie Bouchard before gaining revenge over Halep and taking out Trevisan. Five matches, just five hours and 50 minutes on court.

The teenager leads the tournament with 60/97 (62%) points won on second serve, managing to find her spots and apply the pressure, even on the slower delivery.  

Swiatek also leads the tournament in receiving games won, winning a staggering 27/31 (87%) of her return games through five matches.

A healthy 127 winners struck so far mean Swiatek has been averaging over 25 winners per match. It’s been clinical and captivating to watch.

Podoroska breezed through qualifying and survived a turbulent battle against Yulia Putintseva in round two. Her all-court craft was on display in the impressive 6-2, 6-4 passage past Svitolina.

The legs might be heavier than Swiatek’s, with eight hours and three minutes on court just in the main draw. Her 71/118 (60%) success rate at the net is the standout stat for her, with the Argentine capable in all corners of the court.

What they said

Swiatek, on being the favourite in her back-to-back matches against qualifiers:

“At the beginning I felt little bit more pressure because I feel like after beating Simona, I'm not underdog anymore. Yeah, I talked with Daria (my sports psychologist) about it . I just kept my mindset from the previous matches.”

On reaching semis in singles and doubles:

"It's amazing for me. I never would have thought that I'm gonna be in semi-finals in singles and doubles, so it's kind of crazy, because I had to play a match every day. But it's good for me, because I'm still in the rhythm. Also, doubles really, I think it's helping my performance in singles also because I'm learning new stuff and I've never had a chance to play doubles with such an experienced player. It's amazing for me, and I'm really happy.

"Well, the only tough thing about that is that I'm getting tired. But still I have one day to recover before tomorrow, so I'm gonna be ready."

Iga Swiatek, Nicole Melichar, Roland Garros 2020, doubles quarter-finals© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

The Pole hasn’t watched any of Podoroska in action, but will learn from her coaches, just like all the previous matches.

As for the Argentine, this was a great moment in her press conference…

Q. Are you pinching yourself at the moment?

 Podoroska: “Sorry, what does it mean, 'pinching'?”

 Q. (Translated to Spanish.)

Podoroska: “No, I don't want to wake up!"

Everything is said with a cheek to cheek smile, the 23-year-old is feeling mentally and physically prepared to go the distance. 

Despite battling through eight matches in Paris so far, Podoroska says: “Fortunately, I’m completely fresh. I don't have any pain or any problem in my body. It's going to be a very tough match, for sure. But I'm happy that I got to the semi-finals. I will be ready for that match obviously.”

Nadia Podoroska, Roland-Garros 2020, quarts de finale©Philippe Montigny / FFT