Swiatek Remains The Queen, Through To Third Straight Roland-Garros Final

Iga Swiatek (photo: Jürgen Hasenkopf)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, June 6, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

Two-time defending champion and this year’s top seed Iga Swiatek continued her reign of Roland-Garros by advancing to her third straight French Open final on a sun-splashed Thursday afternoon in Paris.

The 23-year-old, World No. 1 from Poland showed her strength of consistency throughout in defeating No. 3 seed Coco Gauff of the United States, 6-2, 6-4, in an hour and 37 in minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier for her 20th consecutive Paris victory in the first semifinal match of the day. It was also her 18th straight win on clay this season and improved her career record at Roland-Garros to a very impressive 34-2.

Swiatek became the third woman to reach three straight Roland-Garros finals since 2000, joining Justine Henin (2005-07) and Maria Sharapova (2012-14). She’s also the second youngest woman to reach four Roland-Garros finals after Steffi Graf.

On Saturday, Swiatek will go after a three-peat – and her fourth Roland-Garros title overall in five years – when she faces No. 12 seed Jasmine Paolini of Italy. The 28-year-old from the Tuscany region rolled over 38th-ranked Mirra Andreeva of Russia, 6-3, 6-1, in just 73 minutes in the second semifinal on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Since saving a match point against four-time major champion Naomi Osaka of Japan in her second-round victory, Swiatek has dropped just 14 games in her past four matches on the terre battue against Marie Bouzkova, Anastasia Potapova, Marketa Vondrousova and Gauff.

“For sure something changed. I adjusted better to the court,” Swiatek said in her on-court interview with Mats Wilander. “It’s not easy to play the first matches of a Grand Slam because the atmosphere is much different than other tournaments. Against Naomi I didn’t have time to get into it. She was intense from the beginning and put pressure on me. I’m happy I handled it well. After that the weather changed. It helps my game I feel. I just gained confidence I would say.”

Meeting each other for the 12th time overall and third consecutive French Open, Swiatek wasted little time establishing her domination of Gauff, the reigning US Open champion, with a break of serve in the opening game. Playing on her favorite surface and painting the lines, Swiatek broke Gauff a second time and saved both break points she faced from the American en route to taking the first set 6-2 in 38 minutes. It moved her just one set away from another Roland-Garros final.

While playing solidly but with little to show for her effort, Gauff had now lost 22 of the 24 sets she has played against the Polish star. By the end of the afternoon, it would be 23 of 25 after Swiatek secured the semifinal triumph on her fourth match-point opportunity, when Gauff sailed a fourth-shot forehand wide.

By the finish, Swiatek had won her third consecutive straight-setter over Gauff, whom she now leads their head-to-head 11-1 and has not dropped a set in any of those victories – including all 10 sets they have played on clay and all six they have played in Paris.

Swiatek smartly hit 10 winners to 14 unforced errors, while Gauff put up the bigger numbers – 27 winners, 39 unforced errors.

Swiatek backed up her first serve impressively by winning 14 of 21 second-serve points (67 percent) and saved three of four break points she faced. However, Gauff struggled with her second serve and was broken by Swiatek in four of seven attempts. Swiatek outpointed her opponent 72-54.

“I think it was the execution that I didn’t do well on,” Gauff said afterward in her post-match news conference. “I had a couple of break points early in the first set to break back. I made errors, a lot of short ball errors.

“I think for the most part I do think I had the right idea, but I think I just made too many errors.”

Meanwhile, Swiatek had kind words for her fallen opponent, who at age 20 will climb to No. 2 in the WTA Rankings on Monday. She said of Gauff: “I think she’s progressing a lot. You can see by her results. Last year’s US Open showed she’s tough. At this age, it’s kind of obvious she’s gonna just grow. It’s nice to see her handling everything well around her because it’s not easy. I’m sure we’ll have plenty more intense matches at the highest level. Coco is one of the most consistent players out there.”

Later, in a court side interview with Tennis Channel‘s Jon Wertheim moments after advancing to her third straight Roland-Garros final, the Polish superstar was asked what she was most proud of overcoming in getting the semifinal victory. She replied: “I think my consistency and the way I stuck to my tactics, even though she broke me in the second set. I was able to continue playing my game and be confident at the end. It wasn’t easy to finish but I’m happy I served well in the last game and I can gain confidence from that.”

Paolini powers her way past Andreeva into title match

In the second semifinal, Jasmine Paolini continued an Italian tennis renaissance in Paris by powering her way into her first major final. The diminutive, 5-foot-4 Paolini, who had never made it past the second round at a Grand Slam prior to this year, celebrated with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over 17-year-old Mirra Andreeva, who a day and a round earlier upset No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka.

On Thursday, Paolini came out swinging and in both sets established early 3-1 break leads. She was the steadier player throughout the 73-minute match. In Andreeva’s final service game, Paolini broke at love and polished off the victory by capturing a 10-shot rally with a forehand winner into the open court. By the end, she had reeled off the final six games of the semifinal to advance to and become the third Italian woman in the Open Era to reach the Roland-Garros final.

Paolini hit 14 winners to 10 unforced errors, while Andreeva mustered just 11 winners and committed 29 unforced errors. She saved all six break points she faced.

During her on-court interview, Alex Corretja asked Paolini: “Are you more happy or relieved?”Paolini replied: “I’m more happy for sure. It was a tough match. She’s playing unbelievable. She’s 17-years-old. She’s so complete. I was nervous before the match. I lost to her a month ago. I was like ‘Come on! You have to do better!’ I was nervous in the first set. Ball after ball I was relaxing. I know it’s tough to relax at this stage. I’m happy I managed to win the match at the end.”

For the first time in her career, Paolini has a six-match clay winning streak. She’s also the first Italian woman to reach a Grand Slam final since 2015 – Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci – and first to do it in Paris since 2012, when her doubles partner, Sara Errani, reached the last two. If she defeats two-time Roland-Garros defending champion Iga Swiatek in the final on Saturday, she would be the first Italian to hold up the Roland-Garros trophy since Francesca Schiavone won in 2010.

“To dream is the most important thing in sport and in life,” Paolini said, “I’m happy I could dream this moment. I don’t know what to say. I’m so emotional.”

By reaching the semifinals, Paolini, who is currently ranked 15th, had guaranteed her debut in the Top 10 next week. Now, by reaching the final on Saturday, she’s projected to be the new No. 7 and would climb to No. 5 by winning the title.

A last-minute text: Roger-Vasselin and Siegemund are mixed doubles champions

It began with a last-minute text message from France’s Edouard Roger-Vasselin to Laura Siegemund of Germany, inviting her to become a team in the Roland-Garros mixed doubles competition. A fortnight later, it culminated in a Grand Slam title.

Thursday afternoon on Court Philippe-Chatrier, the second-seeded French/German duo defeated British/American pair Neal Skupski and Desirae Krawczyk, seeded fourth, 6-4, 7-5, in an hour and 40 minutes to win the Roland-Garros mixed doubles crown.

Roger-Vasselin and Siegemund converted four of 10 break-point opportunities they earned while saving nine of the 11 break points they faced. They outpointed Skupski and Krawczyk 69-59.

It was Siegemund’s second major mixed doubles title after winning her first at the US Open in 2016 with Mate Pavic of Croatia. She also has won a women’s doubles title with Vera Zvonareva of Russia at the US Open in 2020. Roger-Vasselin previously won a men’s doubles major title at Roland-Garros in 2014 with Julien Benneteau.

While Roger-Vasselin gave the French its first and only title of this year’s Roland-Garros, it’s the story behind the story of how he and Siegemund became a team for the first time – after it almost didn’t happen – and went all the way to defeat the two-time Wimbledon champions in the clay-court major that’s truly fascinating.

“This was a last-minute thing,” Siegemund explained during the on-court trophy ceremony. “I didn’t want to play mixed here, because I was in singles and women’s doubles also. Then Edouard texted me like two hours before the deadline.

“I always wanted to play with him, and it was always somehow not working out, and then I was like, ‘I can’t say no, now he’s finally free’. So I think it was a good decision that we signed up. Thank you so much for playing with me. I enjoyed some mixed before, but this was special, I really enjoyed it.”

Then, it was Roger-Vasselin’s turn: “Thank you Laura for accepting my last-minute [request]. Two hours before the deadline, I had no partner, and you said yes. I’m glad you said yes, and we had a great week, so thank you to you and your team as well.”

Djokovic confirms he’s undergone surgery

On Thursday, 24-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic confirmed via social media he underwent arthroscopic surgery in Paris to repair a torn medial meniscus in his right knee.

The surgery took place on Wednesday, two days after the 37-year-old Djokovic survived his second-straight five-setter of Roland-Garros and a day after the defending champion withdrew from the tournament following an MRI that confirmed he had aggravated a pre-existing injury to his right knee during his fourth-round match against Francisco Cerundolo on Monday.

“In the past day, I had to make some tough decisions after sustaining a meniscus tear during my last match,” Djokovic wrote. “I’m still processing it all but I am happy to update you that the surgery went well.”

“I am so appreciative of the team of doctors who have been by my side, as well as the overwhelming support I have received from my fans. I’m going to do my best to be healthy and fit to return to the court as soon as possible.”

While the recovery process will force Djokovic to miss this year’s Wimbledon Championships, which begin July 1, he’s vowed to return in time for this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris.

Around Roland-Garros

Italian veterans Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori reached the Roland-Garros men’s doubles final after upsetting No. 2 seeds Rohan Bopanna of India and Matthew Ebden of Australia, 7-5, 2-6, 6-2, in one hour and 58 minutes in a semifinal-round match on Court Simonne-Mathieu.

The No. 11 seeds were outpointed 80-78 but Bolelli and Vavassori prevailed by converting one more break point than their opponents. They improved to 25-8 this season, which includes 2-2 against Bopanna and Ebden.

Now into the final on their team debut at Roland-Garros, they will play either top seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Spain or ninth seeds Marcelo Arevalo of El Salvador and Mate Pavic of Croatia. On Thursday, Arevalo and Pavic ended the run of Stefanos Tsitsipas and his brother Petros Tsitsipas with a 7-5, 6-4 quarterfinal win.

Thursday’s Roland-Garros results

Friday’s Roland-Garros order of play 

By the numbers

Iga Swiatek has become the fifth player in the Open Era to win 20 consecutive matches at Roland-Garros after Chris Evert (29, 1984-1991), Monica Seles (25, 1990-1996), Steffi Graf (20, 1987-1989) and Justine Henin (24, 2005- 2010).

“Quotable …”

Coco Gauff in her post-match news conference Thursday, after losing her semifinal match to defending champion and top seed Iga Swiatek.