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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Thursday October 8, 2020


And then there were two.

The Roland Garros women’s singles final is set and it presents a look at the WTA’s generation next. 19-year-old Iga Swiatek will take on 21-year-old Sofia Kenin for a shot to hoist the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen on Saturday in Paris. Here’s a look inside the matchup.


Tennis Express

Iga’s a revelation

From the minute Iga Swiatek took her place in the main draw in 2019 in Paris, she’s been surprisingly good. Last year she made the round of 16 on her debut, but was blitzed out of the tournament by Simon Halep when she got there, in 45 blink-and-you-missed-it minutes.

This year she came back hoping to improve on her performance, and shake off what she perceived to be a disappointing summer in North America, where she was bounced from the US Open in the third round by Victoria Azarenka.

She’s done that and more. Swiatek has not dropped a set and has surrendered just 23 games through six matches. She avenged her loss to Halep by toppling the top seed in the round of 16 in 68 minutes. Since then she’s calmly eased past two qualifiers to book her spot in her first career final. She has displayed an impressive amount of talent and maturity to take her place in the title match.

Win or lose, she's the youngest Roland-Garros finalist since 2001.

Kenin’s Conviction

Waiting across the net from Swiatek will be another youngster, but one with a lot more experience this deep in Slams. 21-year-old Sofia Kenin has been a force at the majors this year, and after he takedown of Petra Kvitova on Thursday her record in Grand Slam play stands at 16-1 on the season. That sounds more like a Serena Williams number than a Sofia Kenin number, but the feisty American has been as good as her record at the Slams this year. Here in Paris she has developed an affinity for the clay and her game has blossomed in the slow conditions, which give her time to defend and grind down opponents.

Her game is refreshing, like Swiatek’s, and it features a lot of variety, angles and well-timed aggression. But more important is the fact that she is mad to win. Kenin’s motor is always switched on and she’s an intense, fiery competitor that thrives on the competition. It’s hard to imagine any other player wanting to win as much as her and it comes off in her play.

What’s on the line?

Kenin can become the first woman to win multiple Slams in the same season since Angelique Kerber in 2016. It would be a tremendous way to complete the Slam season for a player that was not considered a threat to win majors heading into the season.

Swiatek can be the first Polish player to win a Slam title in Grand Slam singles history, and the first teenager to win Roland Garros since Iva Majoli in 1997.

The 23 games that Swiatek has dropped prior to the final is the sixth lowest total in Open Era history.


Juniors to Pros

Swiatek beat Kenin in their only previous meeting, at the Girls’ Singles tournament in Roland Garros, 6-4, 7-5.


Here’s what Kenin had to say about it.

“I remember I lost,” she said. “I don't remember how I played. But definitely I can say I was not as comfortable on clay as I am now, as I started to feel last year. I don't remember what happened. I think it was like 4-4. Honestly, I don't remember. Yeah, I mean, she played well that match. Of course, we're both different players now. I mean, I have to figure out what she does. She's had a great two weeks here. She's had some great results, playing some really good tennis. I know that I'm also playing well.”

Nerves or no nerves?

Swiatek has done a fantastic job of managing her expectations throughout the tournament. After her win over Halep it would have been easy for her to let the new expectations get to her, but she has a strong team with her, which includes sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz, and she says that she has been able to focus on just playing tennis, rather than getting hung up with the fact that she’s now the favorite.

“It's easy to say that you're not going to think that you're playing semifinal,” she said after her victory over Nadia Podoroska in the semis. “But it is somewhere in the back of your head. The thing is you don't have to focus on that thoughts, you just have to let it go and focus on the things that are really making a difference, like technique or tactics. It's also a thing that I was talking with Daria about. Basically I learned that from her.”

It’s pretty rare to see a 19-year-old working on this part of her game, but it was actually Swiatek that sought out the help several years ago.

Kenin on the other hand, says she likes to solve problems on her own. One cannot fault her for that, she has done a great job of it in 2020. The American says that nerves will be a part of the equation on Saturday, and hopes she can control them.

“I obviously saw that she has had that and it's really helped her,” Kenin said, when asked what she thought of Swiatek's use of a sports psychologist. “I just got to somehow handle it. I know what I need to do to handle myself. I would rather have, like, a physio I guess than a psychologist and everything.”

X’s and O’s

How is this final going to play out between the lines? Swiatek has the bigger weapons and she’ll look to assert herself in that department. Kenin is crafty and agile and will hope to neutralize and frustrate the Pole. It has proven to be a difficult task all week as Swiatek has mowed down all six of her opponents, including world-class defender and counter puncher Simona Halep.

Kenin can play with aggression as well and she’s one of the best at keeping an opponent off balance and holding her shots until the last minute. Will she go up the line or crosscourt? It’s never easy to tell with Kenin.

If there is anything to expose in Kenin’s game, it’s her serve. The American has been broken 18 times through six matches (twice as many as Swiatek) and is winning just 46 percent of her second-serve points, compared to 63 percent for Swiatek.

If the Pole can assert her strength from the service stripe, and on returns, she might be able to get in the driver’s seat early.

Kenin will have to rely on her street smarts out there. She’s been great under pressure, saving break points she needs to and taking the racquet out of her opponent’s hands when it matters the most. She’s a big-match sensation and that belief will have to carry her forward.


 

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