Wonder woman Swiatek faces power play with wunderkind Gauff in French Open final

·5-min read

An air of inevitability hangs over the women’s final between the top seed Iga Swiatek and the 18th seed Coco Gauff on Saturday afternoon at the Stade Roland Garros.

Swiatek came into the second Grand Slam tournament of the season on the back of a 28-match winning streak.

The run had furnished her with titles on the hard courts in Doha, Indian Wells and Miami as well as on the clay at Stuttgart and Rome.

No surprise then that she stands one match away from her second French Open crown, a sixth honour of the season, and the best phase of results since Venus Williams constructed a 35-match.unbeaten sequence in 2000.

Gauff’s ascent has been somewhat more organic. The American reached the last-16 at Wimbledon in 2019 when she was only 15. There was a fourth round at the Australian Open in 2020 and the last eight at the French Open in 2021.

A year on, a few months after her 18th birthday, she will play in her first final at a Grand Slam tournament.

And the wunderkind displayed wonder woman poise and intelligence in the first flush of her straight sets dismissal of the unseeded Italian Martina Trevisan.

Calm

“Yeah, it's a Grand Slam final," said Gauff of her impending appointment with a woman on a 34-game winning streak.

"It doesn't matter. There's a lot of stuff happening in the world, especially in the United States. It's important not to stress about a tennis match."

On leaving the Court Philippe Chatrier to the acclaim of the crowd, she wrote on the lens of one of the cameras covering her exit from the court: “Peace. End gun violence.”

Later, after celebrating her success with her family and coaches, she returned to the topic of the mass shootings in the United States where within the last 10 days 25 people have been shot dead in Texas and Oaklahoma.

She also cited the deaths of 17 students at the hands of a teenage gunman in the Parkland school shooting in Florida in February 2018.

"For me it’s kind of close to home," said Gauff. "I had some friends that were part of the Parkland shooting.

"I remember watching that whole experience, Luckily they were able to make it out of it. I think I was maybe 13 or 14 when that happened and still nothing has changed.”

This is pure Gauff. In her mid teens she was speaking out on the climate emergency and two years ago she addressed a Black Lives Matter march near her home in Delray Beach in Florida.

Variations

Such interventions don’t win Grand Slam tournaments. But they help to display the breadth of talent and range of characters within the women's game. Not all robotic winning machines.

A first major would enhance the Gauff brand and her powers of projection. Her very presence at the business end of this particular French Open also serves to highlight the cackhanded organisation of the night sessions at the tournament.

Nine of the 10 matches were played by men as tournament directors prepared to pay tribute to Billie Jean King, one of the most ferocious advocates for equal rights.

One of the excuses from the French Open organisers was that there weren't enough appealing match-ups in the women's draw. Utter hogwash.

Iga Swiatek's last-16 game against Qinwen Zheng lasted nearly three hours and Gauff - with all her back story - was certainly worth a punt from the broadcasters.

But they opted for the antediluvian.

Reconfiguration

As the modern world of women's tennis takes shape after Ashleigh Barty's abdication as world number one, Swiatek can rest uneasy in the knowledge that a hungry horde of ambitious youngsters are tracking her.

Zheng,19, has vowed to give a better showing after she was struck down by period pains and a thigh injury during her epic against Swiatek.

Other 19-year-olds, Leylah Fernandez and Emma Radacanu, who contested the US Open final in September, will also demand notice as contenders.

"My world has changed, for sure," said Swiatek. "But I feel like I'm staying the same player and the same person.

"I think these are the main keys and this is my base that I'm leaning on."

Stakes

Saturday's final will be the third meeting between the Swiatek and Gauff. The Pole, who was 21 during the tournament, has won both encounters - one on clay and one on hard courts - and has not dropped a set.

But she will be unlikely to steam-roller Gauff who has exhibited commendable poise and patience during her run to the final.

During her match with Trevisan in the last four, she showed she was more than happy to enter the realm of the dogfight.

She pushed the 28-year-old Italian back with penetrating groundstrokes and waited for the opening.

From 3-3 in the first set, she won the nine of the last 10 games to take the tie 6-3, 6-1.

But Swiatek, who Gauff says has not changed in terms of locker room behaviour despite her flight to the top, will be the favourite.

"I think going in I have nothing to lose," added Gauff.

"I'm just going to play free and play my best tennis. I think in a Grand Slam final anything can happen.

"If I do lift the trophy, honestly, I don't think my life is going to change really. The people who love me are still going to love me regardless if I lift the trophy or not."

She'll be 2.2 million euros richer and that will bring a whole lot of love from sponsors.

And an even more powerful voice.

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