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French Open Women’s Final Preview

Sofia Kenin plays for her second Grand Slam title of the season vs. 54th-ranked Iga Swiatek in the French Open final.

By Witherspoon

Roland Garros’ red clay canvas frames a clear contrast for the women’s final.

Explosive Iga Swiatek’s first-strike offense vs. Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin’s counter-strike defense figures to be a central theme of the French Open final.

This wildly unpredictable French Open has shown us nothing is as it seems.

A tournament that began without four of the world’s Top 10 taking the trip to Paris—including world No. 1 and reigning champion Ashleigh Barty and three-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka—culminates with a pair of first-time French Open finalists capable of creating history in the City of Light.

The 21-year-old Kenin is bidding to become the first woman to win multiple majors in the same season since Angelique Kerber won the 2016 Australian Open and US Open.

The 19-year-old Swiatek is playing for her first career pro title—and for a precious piece of history. If Swiatek prevails she will become the first Polish player—female or male—to win a Grand Slam singles crown.

This is their first pro meeting, but Swiatek has conquered Kenin before prevailing in their 2016 Roland Garros girls’ meeting.

In those days, Kenin enjoyed clay-court matches about as much as the prospect of mud-wrestling. a mixed martial arts opponents.

“I did not like clay at all. Honestly, like in juniors, clay was not my strongest surface,” Kenin said. “I felt underpowered. I couldn’t control the points. I didn’t have great movement on clay. It was a bit of a struggle for me.”

Times have changed and Kenin has moved beautifully carving a path into her seventh career final and carrying the confidence that comes from winning five of her prior six title matches.

Nineteen-year-old Iga Swiatek is playing to become the first Polish player, female or male, to win a Grand Slam singles championship.

Swiatek has soared into her second career final. Relying on her heavy topspin forehand, timely strikes down the line and her ability to close at net, Swiatek steamrolled top-seeded Simona Halep 6-1, 6-2, snapping the Romanian’s 17-match winning streak, avenging her 2019 Roland Garros loss and leaving the two-time major champion thoroughly impressed.

“All the credit to her, she played unbelievable today and she was everywhere and she hit all the balls in very strong, very powerful,” Halep said. “It was her match.”

Look for Swiatek, who has permitted just 23 games in six tournament wins and has not allowed more than four games in a set to try to take the offense and force Kenin into defending from awkward positions on court.

Swiatek is the bigger hitter and has spent three-and-a-half hours less on court then Kenin, who has gone the distance in four of her six victories.

Kenin’s cracking two-handed backhand that she can rip deep crosscourt, roll short angle or redirect down the line was a key stroke in her 6-4, 7-5 victory over two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova in the semifinals.

The feisty Floridian’s problem-solving skills and her fierce desire to win are equally important assets. Remember, prior to this Roland Garros run, the fourth-seeded Kenin had never surpassed the quarterfinals of any professional clay-court event.

It’s been 23 years since Iva Majoli became the last teenager to rule Paris when she shocked Martina Hingis in the 1997 French Open final denying the Swiss Miss her shot at the single-season Grand Slam.

Swiatek will surely feel the jitters facing a Grand Slam champion in her first major final, second final and the biggest match of her life. The 54th-ranked ranked Pole points to fact she arrived in Paris as a longshot and played the doubles Friday today as factors that can help her alleviate pressure, enjoy the moment and let her shots fly.

“I feel like I’m ready. I also feel like I don’t have to win,” Swiatek said. “I’m pretty okay with both scenarios. Of course it’s going to be sad because I would be so close if I’m going to lose.

“I’m just going to focus like it’s another match. I feel like the pressure isn’t on me. So, yeah, right now I’m just enjoying that I have like a great run in singles. I think if I’m going to win, it’s going to be crazy and super overwhelming for me. But as I said yesterday, even though there’s, like, chaos around me, when I’m coming on court, I feel like my mind is really clear. I can just focus on playing, going back to basics. Yeah, I’m going to be okay no matter what.”

Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova calls Kenin “an offensive defender” and she’s shown those skills defusing Grand Slam champions in major matches. A fierce Kenin swept Serena Williams in the 2019 French Open and toppled two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza to win the Australian Open. She’ll need to straddle the baseline, used Swiatek’s pace against her and deploy her dangerous drop shot effectively to prevail tomorrow.

If both women can cope with the nerves and are firing at full form we should see fireworks tomorrow in a clash of two finalists 21 years old or younger for the first time since 2003 when Justine Henin beat Kim Clijsters in an all-Belgian battle. The winner will be the seventh Grand Slam champ aged 23 or younger in the last eight majors.

Clearly, the future is now in women’s tennis and both players should pour plenty of passion into the title match.

“You really got to first of all love the game, you got to love the competition, you got to love to compete,” said Kenin, who can rise to No. 3 if she lifts the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen tomorrow. “You have to have that feistiness in you. Like I said, losing I really hate and I love winning. I try to do everything I can to win.”