Sofia Kenin, Iga Swiatek set an unlikely French Open final
Few thought Sofia Kenin could reach the French Open final when she lost 6-0 and 6-0 in her lonely clay court catch-up three weeks ago.
Few thought Iga Swiatek could reach the French Open final last week. The 19-year-old from Poland in 54th place was very promising but had not yet reached the Grand Slam quarter-finals.
In Paris next Saturday, Kenin and Swiatek will play for the title to write the final name in one of the most bizarre brackets - and tournament settings - in great tennis history.
Kenin, the American with fourth place on the grid, prevailed on Thursday in the semifinals 6-4, 7: 5 against the Czech Petra Kvitova with seventh place on the grid. Kenin, the Australian Open champion in February, and Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon winner, were the only women with Grand Slam experience to make it after the fourth round.
"I used to hate clay," said 21-year-old Kenin. "[In juniors] I felt like I wasn't strong. I hit a ball. It's not going anywhere.
"I had success last year [against Serena Williams in the third round] and after that I feel like things clicked."
On the previous Thursday, Swiatek was the second-lowest finalist in the French Open, beating 131st Argentine Nadia Podoroska 6-2, 6-1.
Swiatek lost only 23 games in their first six games, the fewest of all women who have not lost a set on the way to the final since Mary Pierce in 1994 (10 games).
"On the one hand, I know I can play great tennis," said Swiatek, the second Polish woman to reach a Roland Garros final in 1939 after Jadwiga Jedrzejowska. "On the other hand, it's a bit of a surprise to me. I never thought I'd be in the final. It's crazy."
FRENCH OPEN DRAWINGS: Men | Women | Television program
Kenin and Swiatek meet for the first time on the WTA tour in the most recent Grand Slam final by combined age since the Australian Open 2008 (Maria Sharapova defeats Ana Ivanovic).
But they were on the other side of the net before - a 15-year-old Swiatek beat Kenin 6: 4, 7: 5 at the French Open junior tournament in 2016.
"I didn't feel as comfortable on clay as I did now, as I felt last year," said Kenin. "Of course we're both different players now."
Kenin, born in Moscow and raised in Florida, has joined Venus and Serena Williams as American women to reach multiple Grand Slam finals in one year since 2006 Jennifer Brady.
"It's not easy to get respect," said Kenin, who described herself in one word as "lively" and is so committed that she cries before games and after losing. "It's really easy to lose. Like I said, people respect me. I'll keep it that way."
Swiatek has made opponents and spectators alike respect them over the past two weeks. She became the betting favorite to take the title after beating the top seed and 2018 champion Simona Halep from Romania 6-1, 6-2 in the fourth round on Sunday. Halep defeated Swiatek 6-1, 6-0 at the 2019 French Open.
"I can handle the pressure," said Swiatek on Sunday. "I grew up to play a match like this and win it."
Kenin and Swiatek went different ways to the finals, but each got through in unprecedented circumstances. It will be the first French Open to be played in October.
The first with night games thanks to a new roof over Court Philippe Chatrier and lights in several places that stay on schedule with frequent rain and temperatures, especially in the 50s.
"I know what the emotions are in your first Grand Slam final," said Kenin, who rallied past the experienced Spaniard Garbine Muguruza for the Australian Open title. "I hope she gets a little nervous."
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