Kenin, 21, will face unseeded Swiatek, 19, in French final
PARIS (AP) - Sofia Kenin started 2020 with an 11:11 record in Grand Slam action. Before this trip to Roland Garros, she had not reached the quarter-finals in any clay court tournament - and last month lost her only tuning match on the surface 6-0, 6-0.
Iga Swiatek is only 19 years old. It occupies 54th place. She has never won a tour-level title. She had never made it through the fourth round of a major tournament.
Now look at the two - the finalists of the French Open.
The Kenin with starting number 4 was already the owner of a big trophy at this year's Australian Open and on Thursday he made it 6: 4, 7: 5 against Petra Kvitova No. 7 in the title match in Paris.
"My mentality has obviously changed," said Kenin, who said she had a confidence boost from the excitement of Serena Williams at Roland Garros a year ago. "I feel like I should dive deep into a tournament but try not to put any pressure on myself."
The 21-year-old American will reach a 16-1 mark in the Grand Slam this season in the matchup against Poland Swiatek on Saturday.
"I'm going to be like an outsider," said Swiatek, using her fingers to make air quotes.
Perhaps. On the other hand, consider how dominant she was on the way to becoming the lowest ranked finalist at Roland Garros since the WTA computer rankings began in 1975. Their last unilateral win was a 6-2, 6-1 win over Argentinian qualifying Nadia Podoroska.
"It seems unreal," said Swiatek. “On the one hand, I know that I can play great tennis. On the other hand, it's a bit surprising to me. "
She has won all 12 sets she played in the tournament and only lost 23 games.
Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, also won every set. But as Kenin put it, "I mean, it obviously doesn't mean anything if I'm playing well."
The left from the Czech Republic had won 77% of their service games in the tournament before Kenin stole two of the top three. Part of it was a strong return. More of it was the way Kenin pushed Kvitova around on a breezy late afternoon and pushed her to the baseline.
Also working in Kenin's favor was the ability to see where a ball was being headed and use its speed to track it down and repeatedly stretch points that appeared to be lost.
Ultimately, that seemed to make Kvitova play like she felt she had to do more, maybe too much, because she was cutting off points early by trying to finish them - and too often she would Miss target.
In the end, Kvitova produced 31 easy mistakes, 20 for Kenin, whose shouts “Come on!” Got louder as the end drew near. Her intensity also came through when she threw her red, white, and blue bat.
“I mean, obviously I felt like I couldn't overwhelm her. I knew I just had to adjust my game, ”said Kenin. "I had to control the points, move them, dictate, try not to give them short eggs, try to have a good serve."
When Swiatek's 70-minute tour de force ended in front of hundreds of spectators at the Philippe Chatrier Court - there is a daily audience limit due to the coronavirus pandemic - she asked for more noise, waved her arms and put a hand to her ear.
Swiatek v Podoroska was Roland Garros' first women's semi-final since 1983 between unset opponents - and only one, Swiatek, really seemed ready for the stage.
Podoroska is in 131st place, the first female qualification in the professional age that reached the last four in Paris.
Just in case someone gets the idea that this is a coincidence for Swiatek, the Guns N 'Roses hears “Welcome to the Jungle” in her headphones before stepping on the pitch: she eliminated the 2018 champion and seed number 1 Simona Halep 6-1, 6-2 in the fourth round after beating runner-up Marketa Vondrousova in the first round in 2019 with the same result.
Swiatek (pronounced shvee-ON'-tek) has been on the rise and on the radar of the tennis world for several years.
In 2018 she won the Wimbledon junior singles title and the French Open junior double title (with Coco Gauff's current partner Caty McNally).
Now Swiatek is chasing a unique two in Paris: She has also made it into the doubles semi-finals with American Nicole Melichar, which gives her the chance to become the first player since Mary Pierce in 2000 to win the singles and doubles trophies of women in Paris wins.
Swiatek does it by picking up balls early and hitting ground strokes with thick topspin. Their power was too great for Podoroska, which put them 23-6 ahead of the winners
Another key to success for Swiatek, whose father was an Olympic rower, is her ability to return. She entered this competition averaging 5.4 breaks per game and added five more.
And then there is another less measurable factor: Swiatek's competitiveness. The one time she lost a service game and made it 4-1 in the second set, she wiped the dirt near the baseline with her bat.
Then she buckled up and fell right back.
"I stay very focused. I don't let my opponents play their best tennis," said Swiatek. "So I hope I do that on Saturday."
AP Tennis Writer Fendrich reported from Washington; AP Sports Writer Pugmire reported from Paris.
More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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