Swiatek, Gauff and a familiar tale of domination | Tennis News - Hindustan Times
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Swiatek, Gauff and a familiar tale of domination

ByRutvick Mehta
Jun 06, 2024 10:55 PM IST

Swiatek swept past the reigning US Open champion 6-2, 6-4 and sailed into another French Open final on a bright Parisian afternoon

Among the most appealing contests in modern day women’s tennis involved Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. In essence and on court, though, it was hardly a rivalry in the term’s literal sense. Across a decade-and-a-half of them standing across the net 22 times over, Serena came out a winner on 20 occasions and one of Sharapova's victories was a walkover.

Poland's Iga Swiatek celebrates winning her semi final match against Coco Gauff of the U.S. (REUTERS)
Poland's Iga Swiatek celebrates winning her semi final match against Coco Gauff of the U.S. (REUTERS)

Iga Swiatek versus Coco Gauff duels carry a similar lopsided ring to them. In the 11 matches going into their French Open semi-final, Swiatek had won 10, all of them in straight sets. Their 12th meeting on Thursday was no different, the Pole's 11th victory over the American no less dominant.

Swiatek swept past the reigning US Open champion 6-2, 6-4 and sailed into another French Open final on a bright Parisian afternoon where things turned familiarly gloomy for Gauff against an opponent that has had her number. Not that Gauff’s alone there. Certainly not on the red dirt of Roland Garros, where Swiatek flaunts a 34-2 win-loss record and stands one match away from a three-peat, a feat last achieved by Justine Henin in 2007 among the women.

First-time Slam finalist Jasmine Paolini, who defeated the emotionally-overpowered teen Mirra Andreeva 6-3, 6-1 in the other semi-final, will be out to stop the Swiatek steamroller. However, given her force since being almost shown the door by Naomi Osaka in the second round, it would take some serious heavy lifting by the Italian. After saving that match point against Osaka, Swiatek has dropped just 14 games in four matches and delivered three bagels (6-0 set wins).

“For sure, something changed,” Swiatek said in her on-court chat on Thursday looking back at the Osaka rescue act. “I just adjusted better to the court... and I gained confidence, I would say.”

On clay, that can spell doom for any opponent. Not least for Gauff, who increasingly seems bereft of belief and ideas to tackle the Swiatek storm which she has managed to overcome just once (on the hard courts of Cincinnati last year) since they first met in 2021.

Gauff’s faltering forehand, her most glaring weakness, can often get masked by her overall defensive solidity and destructive backhand against most other players on the tour. Against the powerful Swiatek, however, it remains a sitting duck.

And so when Gauff kicked off the semi-final with a long forehand and handed Swiatek the opening break, signs of the script not being any different to the previous two French Open editions — Swiatek defeated her in both, including the 2022 final — were evident. Gauff's backhand was on, taking it high and early, while she was also brave in attacking Swiatek’s second serves. It made her earn a break back chance immediately, only for Swiatek to hold on.

Gauff had a second break point opportunity in the fourth game, but fluffed it courtesy another wild forehand. Asking Swiatek a few tough questions with her defence, the American continued to self-destruct with untimely errors (she ended with 39 unforced errors, 28 off the forehand wing). She was soon down a double break as Swiatek, although scratchy, was largely solid.

The third game of the second set showed why it isn’t necessarily only about the tennis when Gauff faces Swiatek. Unhappy about a line call after a lengthy argument with the chair umpire, the 20-year-old walked back to the baseline teary-eyed. She was in an emotional whirlwind, and caught unexpectedly in that was Swiatek who got broken in that game after a couple of forehand errors from her this time.

Not for nothing, though, is the Pole a four-time Slam winner. Champions take little time to strike back and Swiatek duly did, setting up a break point with a forehand return winner pouncing on Gauff's second serve. Swiatek was back to doing Swiatek things. And Gauff to doing Gauff things at the other end. A double fault and a wide forehand saw the American being broken to love and her hopes of a fight shattered.

As if to sum up the rout and the rivalry between the world No. 1 and the soon-to-be world No. 2, it ended how it began — with a Gauff forehand error.

Bopanna, Ebden crash out in semis

Earlier, Rohan Bopanna and Matthew Ebden squandered a strong start to bow out in the men's doubles semi-finals, losing 5-7, 6-2, 2-6 to Italians Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori. The Indian-Aussie had beaten the same pair in the final of the Australian Open this year that gave Bopanna his first men’s doubles Slam title.

On Thursday, though, with Ebden seemingly hampered by an injury, the duo couldn’t carry the momentum of a fast start that saw them go 4-1 up for a strong finish. This was, however, a fourth straight Slam semi-final for the top-ranked pair, and a big improvement from its first-round exit in Paris last year.

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