• October 3, 2022

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Swiatek, 19, to face Kenin in French Open final

Sofia Kenin entered 2020 with an 11-11 record in Grand Slam action. She never had made the quarterfinals at any clay-court tournament until this trip to Roland Garros – and lost her only tuneup match on the surface 6-0, 6-0 last month.

Iga Swiatek is just 19. She’s ranked 54th. She’s never gained a tour-level title of any sort. She’d never before been past the fourth round at a major tournament.

Look at the two of them now – French Open finalists.

Already the owner of a major trophy from this year’s Australian Open, the No. 4-seeded Kenin moved into the title match in Paris by beating No. 7 Petra Kvitova 6-4, 7-5 on Thursday.

”My mentality has obviously changed,” said Kenin, who said she derived a boost of confidence from upsetting Serena Williams at Roland Garros a year ago. ”I feel like I should be getting deep in a tournament, but try not to put pressure on myself.”

The 21-year-old American will carry a 16-1 mark in Grand Slam action this campaign into Saturday’s matchup versus Poland’s Swiatek. ”I’m going to be, like, an ‘underdog,”’ Swiatek said, using her fingers to make air quotes.

Maybe. On the other hand, consider how dominant she has been along the way to becoming the lowest-ranked women’s finalist at Roland Garros since the WTA computer rankings started in 1975. Her latest lopsided victory was via a 6-2, 6-1 score against Argentine qualifier Nadia Podoroska.

”It seems unreal,” Swiatek said. ”On one hand, I know that I can play great tennis. On the other hand, it’s kind of surprising for me.”

She has won all 12 sets she’s played in the tournament, dropping merely 23 games.

Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, came in having won every set, too. But as Kenin put it: ”I mean, that obviously doesn’t mean anything if I’m playing well.”

The lefty from the Czech Republic had grabbed 77% of her service games in the tournament, before Kenin stole two of the first three. Part of it was strong returning. More of it was the manner in which Kenin was pushing Kvitova around on a breezy late afternoon, pinning her to the baseline.

Also working in Kenin’s favor was a capacity to sense where a ball was headed and use her speed to track it down, repeatedly stretching points that seemed lost.

Eventually, that appeared to make Kvitova play as if she felt that she needed to try to do more, maybe do too much, because she would cut off points early by attempting to end them – and, too often, she would miss the mark.

By the end, Kvitova produced 31 unforced errors, to 20 for Kenin, whose shouts of ”Come on!” grew louder as the end grew closer. Her intensity also came through when she chucked her red-white-and-blue racket.

”I mean, obviously I felt like I could not overpower her. I knew I just needed to adjust my game,” Kenin said. ”I had to control the points, move her, dictate, try not to give her short balls, try to have a good serve.”

When Swiatek’s 70-minute tour de force ended before a crowd in the hundreds at Court Philippe Chatrier – there is a daily limit on spectators because of the coronavirus pandemic – she asked for more noise, waving her arms and cupping a hand to her ear.

Swiatek vs. Podoroska was the first women’s semifinal at Roland Garros between unseeded opponents since 1983 – and only one, Swiatek, truly seemed ready for the stage.

Podoroska is ranked 131st, the first female qualifier in the professional era to get to the final four in Paris.

Steve Carr

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