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Swiatek sinks Gauff hopes to set up Rome final clash with Pliskova

Iga Swiatek fended off Coco Gauff in the first career meeting between the teenage WTA stars, earning a place in the Rome final.

French Open champion Iga Swiatek beat Elina Svitolina and Coco Gauff on a hectic Saturday to set up a clash with Karolina Pliskova in the Internazionali BNL d’Italia final.

Rome: Women’s Singles Draw | Men’s Singles Draw 

The Polish teenager began her day with a 6-2 7-5 morning victory over fifth seed Svitolina, twice a winner of this tournament in Rome.

It was a match that was carried over from Friday’s schedule after rain interrupted play, and Swiatek delivered a convincing performance. She said it has given her a boost of confidence.

“I felt really good today,” the 19-year-old told reporters in her Zoom press conference. “It’s a big difference between my previous matches and today. I was able to beat Elina, so that shows that my game is here, I’m ready for anyone. It gave me a real confidence boost.”

That set up the semi-final clash with Gauff, the 17-year-old American who was competing at this stage of a WTA 1000 event for the first time, having been gifted her last-four place when Ash Barty abandoned their quarter-final match due to injury on Friday.

There was no sign of fatigue from Swiatek as the 19-year-old powered to a 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 victory in a battle of the leading teenage stars of the women’s game, who faced each for the first time in what could be a long rivalry.

Swiatek on Gauff: Tough to face a younger star 

Swiatek said that facing Gauff in her second match was tricky. She hasn’t faced many players younger than her.

“It’s always hard to play against a young superstar, especially when I’m not used to that because I was always the youngest one,” she said. “I just tried to have a high level of energy, even though it was my second match. Even though it was tiebreak in the first set, I felt like I was always the first one to break her. I was kind of mentally leading that match. I tried to play smart. I did that pretty well today so I’m happy about that.”

Between her two matches, Swiatek would have learned it was Pliskova waiting in the final, as the Czech ninth seed defeated Croatian Petra Martic 6-1 3-6 6-2 to keep up her remarkable record in the Italian capital.

Pliskova won the Rome title in 2019 and was runner-up to Simona Halep last year, but the 29-year-old former world number one has not been to a final since this event unusually took place in September of last year, having been delayed due to the pandemic.

Swiatek won as a major outsider at Roland Garros in October, defying her world ranking which at the time was a lowly 54th, and will face, in Pliskova, a player who has yet to win a grand slam title, a glaring absence amid an otherwise stellar career.

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