Iga Swiatek strolls past Kasatkina to set up French Open final against Gauff | French Open 2022

In the first few months of 2022, when Iga Swiatek and Daria Kasatkina faced each other three times on three different continents, Kasatkina managed to win only 11 games.

Their rematch with a French Open final on the line underscored the great challenge before Swiatek these days. She is undeniably playing better tennis than any woman in the world and now she must maintain that level even under the type of pressure that would crush most others.

She has done so throughout her first grand slam tournament as the world No 1 and the main attraction, and on Thursday she handled herself supremely well again, producing one of her best performances of the fortnight. Ploughing through 10 of the last 11 games, Swiatek reached the final at Roland Garros for the second time in three years by dominating Kasatkina 6-2, 6-1.

The surreal winning streak now stands at 34 victories in succession, equal with Serena Williams’s best run, achieved in 2013. As the streak enters its fifth month, Swiatek has lost just two sets since mid-March and one in Paris, where she has conceded 29 games in six matches.

“It seemed kind of obvious for me that the streak may come to an end soon,” said Swiatek. “So I just wanted to take it really step by step. I didn’t have any exact goals on this tournament. And just seeing how my game is developing every match, it’s something that’s giving me a lot of hope, and I’m just proud of myself.”

Coco Gauff plays a backhand en route to a 6-3, 6-1 win against Martina Trevisan in their semi-final
Coco Gauff plays a backhand en route to a 6-3, 6-1 win against Martina Trevisan in their semi-final. Photograph: Robert Prange/Getty Images

The world No 1 will face Coco Gauff, who consolidated an incredible two weeks of her own, demonstrating her maturity and growing experience throughout as she overcame her tightness in the early stages before thoroughly outplaying Martina Trevisan 6-3, 6-1 to reach her first grand slam final.

With another step forward, the 18-year-old continues to progress so far ahead of the curve. She is the youngest grand slam finalist since Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon in 2004 and the youngest French Open finalist in more than 20 years, since Kim Clijsters in 2001.

Gauff spent the days before this tournament taking her graduation photos by the Eiffel Tower and she will finish it by competing in a dream final against the best player in the world.

Afterwards, Gauff talked about how her perspective has shifted, particularly after her quarter-final loss to Barbora Krejcikova last year. “I think at that moment I was pushing myself too much to do the results, whereas when I was in the quarter-final, I didn’t even enjoy the moment,” she said. “I didn’t even care really. Now, being in the final, 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.”

The task before Swiatek was a former top-10 player with a deep toolbox of slices, spins and angles. But Kasatkina’s variety pales in comparison with Swiatek’s sheer weight of shot. From 2-2, Swiatek’s forehand exploded into the match, she picked Kasatkina’s defence apart by creating angles off both sides and she laid waste Kasatkina’s second serve throughout.

It has taken an immense mental effort from Swiatek to manage the stress, the emotions and the pressure in a completely new scenario for her. Swiatek admitted it has been “extremely difficult” to remain composed through each match and, even as she won, she believes she did not entirely handle herself well until she recovered from a set down in her fourth-round win against Zheng Qinwen. “I couldn’t get rid of the expectations fully, but I tried to accept that, that they are going to be there and it’s going to stress me a little bit more,” she said.

Swiatek has dealt with the extra stress through frequent talks with her team, her coach, Tomasz Wiktorowski, and her psychologist, Daria Abramowicz. Meanwhile, she has pumped herself up by listening to Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Guns N’ Roses, and distracted herself by reading The Three Musketeers.

The result of their work and her taste is that, two years on from her breakout triumph, beating Sofia Kenin in the 2020 final, a 21-year-old Swiatek will play for her second grand slam title. Thirty-four wins into the streak, remarkably, she feels like she can only improve.

“I feel like my game is getting more and more solid,” she said. “I can really loosen up when I’m getting advantage and when I’m having a break, so that’s great. I feel like I’m playing better every match.”

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