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2018, 2020, 2022: The Roland-Garros odyssey between Swiatek and Gauff continues – this time in the final

They know each other from juniors, they know each other from the tour – but history tells us nothing about how the Roland-Garros final between Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff will go

Coco Gauff and Iga Swiatek Coco Gauff and Iga Swiatek in Rome in 2021 (Zuma/Panoramic)

When Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff meet in the Roland-Garros final on Saturday, many observers will expect that it will be the first Slam encounter of many for the pair.

Swiatek, the world No 1, already has one Slam title here, having won in 2020; Gauff was also in the main draw that year, losing in the second round to qualifier Martina Trevisan, the first failure in a major tournament of her yound career.

It is worth observing that Swiatek is three years Gauff’s senior; she won junior Wimbledon in 2018 as an unseeded player when Gauff was seeded third and lost in the quarter-finals. That was also the year that a 14-year-old Gauff won the girls’ singles at Roland-Garros, beating her good friend Caty McNally in the final to lift the title and reach the top of the junior world rankings. It was McNally who knocked Swiatek out of the competition, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4, in the semi-finals.

Coco Gauff at Junior Roland-Garros in 2018 (Antoine Couvercelle/Panoramic)

Gauff has admitted that she was expecting to play Swiatek in that final rather than McNally – and that this year’s women’s final offers a chance to rectify that a little.

I’m really happy to play her specifically, because I always wanted to play her in a final

Coco Gauff

“I knew [Swiatek] from juniors, but, I mean, we never spoke really until we both got on tour,” she said to reporters. “I remember here specifically I was actually preparing to play her kind of in the final…I think that for me, this final, I mean, I want it for myself, but I’m really happy to play her specifically, because I always wanted to play her in a final, and I knew it was going to happen eventually just from, even in juniors that it was going to happen, just from the way our games were both projecting. I just didn’t think it would happen so soon.”

Gauff: ‘The younger me wanted to win a Slam too much’

In their senior careers, they’ve played each other twice previously, and Swiatek has won both matches. One of the encounters was on clay, last year in Rome, when the Pole won 7-6 (3), 6-3 – a much tighter scoreline than their clash on the hard courts of Miami in March this year, when she won 6-3, 6-1.

This is the first year that Gauff has made it past the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam, having reached the last eight in Paris in 2021.

A fine line between believing in yourself and almost pushing yourself too much.

Coco Gauff

She has, however, caught the eye previously with the combined allure of her extreme youth and her play, and the subsequent hype around her. The teenager has spoken a great deal in the past years about being ready to win a Slam, and given a rather more thoughtful reflection on it at Roland-Garros this time round.

“I think that version [of a younger Coco] was ready to win a slam, but I think she almost wanted it too much, that she put way too much pressure on herself,” Gauff told a press conference after her semi-final win over Martina Trevisan. “Now I’m definitely ready to win one but I’m not putting pressure on myself to win one. I think there’s a fine line between believing in yourself and almost pushing yourself too much.

“At that moment I was pushing myself too much to do the results, whereas when I was in the quarter-final [in 2021], like, I didn’t even like enjoy the moment. I didn’t even care really. Now, being in the final, like I’m enjoying it. I think there is definitely a difference between ready and almost wanting it too much. I think at that moment I wanted it too much, whereas now I definitely want it. Yes, who wouldn’t? But also, it’s not going to be the end of the world if it doesn’t happen for me.”

Trevisan: Swiatek and Gauff… have big forehands!

Trevisan herself has an interesting perspective on the match-up, having faced both women on the Paris clay; although she lost to Gauff this year, she beat her in the second round back in 2020, before losing to Swiatek in the 2020 quarter-final, where the Italian was dismissed 6-3, 6-1. She had to admit, though, that Swiatek in 2020, even with that outstanding run at Roland-Garros, was a very different proposition to today’s version.

“I played with Iga two years ago, so I think it’s different,” she said. “They are young, they are very impressive. You can feel the pressure on court. Maybe they are similar on the forehand, that it’s very heavy. It’s difficult to play with them, of course!”

Gauff and Trevisan embrace after their semi-final at 2022 Roland-Garros (Aurelien Morissard/Panoramic)

And Swiatek herself doesn’t think her experience of 2020 does very much to prepare her for this year’s final. Of course, the 2020 edition took place in autumn after a previous cancellation due to the coronavirus pandemic, making the conditions unusual; but she was also a surprise package in the draw, then the world No 54, making her the lowest-ranked woman to win the title since rankings were introduced in 1975.

I’m not an underdog and… everything has changed, honestly

Iga Swiatek

“I feel like the conditions are totally different,” she said this week. “And also [those] two weeks were so weird for me that it wasn’t like a, you know, normal tournament, honestly. I had, you know, really tough time before the tournament which led to some changes that actually led to winning.

“But this year it’s a little bit different because I’m not an underdog and everything has changed, honestly. So I’m not really coming back to that.”

Swiatek: I’ve worked hard to be here

Describing herself as ‘not an underdog’ is somewhat of an understatement. Swiatek has now won 34 matches in a row, with a streak extending as far back as February. People know what to expect from her, but she also knows what to expect from the situations she now finds herself in.

“This time [at Roland-Garros] I feel like I’m in the right place and that place that I kind of worked for really hard,” she explained. “And on hard court this year, it was all kind of new for me and I really didn’t expect to be in the [Australian Open] semi-final. Here, it’s not like I expected that, but for sure I felt the pressure and that in my mind I wanted to do better than last year [when she failed to defend her title and fell in the quarter-finals to Maria Sakkari].

“So I’m even more proud of myself that I could cope with that and really push myself to not think about that and to just focus on tennis.”

Tennis will undoubtedly be the ultimate winner on Saturday as the two duke it out on Court Philippe-Chatrier; and after a few topsy-turvy years, the two could start to establish something women’s tennis has lacked in recent years – a true generational rivalry.

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