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Swiatek eyes place among greats with fourth French Open crown

By AFP - May 22,2024 - Last updated at May 22,2024

Poland’s Iga Swiatek with her trophy after winning the women’s final against Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka at the WTA Rome Open tennis tournament at Foro Italico in Rome on May 18 (AFP photo)

PARIS — Iga Swiatek admits she is the favourite and “confident” ahead of her bid to become only the fourth woman to win four Roland Garros singles titles in the Open era.

The World No.1 could also become the first player to lift three successive women’s titles in Paris since Justine Henin in 2007.

Swiatek is a strong favourite after dominating on clay again this season, arriving in Paris off the back of WTA 1000 victories in Madrid and Rome.

The only female player in history to complete a Madrid-Rome-Roland Garros treble in the same season is Serena Williams.

But Swiatek is not daunted by what she could achieve.

“I’m number one so I’m the favourite everywhere if you look at rankings,” she told reporters after swatting aside second-ranked Aryna Sabalenka in the Rome Open final last weekend.

“But rankings don’t play, so... I’ll do everything step by step and we’ll see.

“Obviously I am confident. I feel like I’m playing great tennis. But it doesn’t change the fact that I really want to stay humble and really focused.”

The 22-year-old Pole has plenty of years ahead of her to chase records but is wasting little time — her four WTA 1000 titles this season have taken her career total to 10.

That is already only 13 short of Serena Williams’ all-time record.

With four Grand Slam titles, Swiatek has not struggled to translate that form to the major tournaments in the past, but insists it is tougher to lift the sport’s biggest trophies.

“Grand Slams are different. There is different pressure on the court and off the court,” she added.

“I love to come to Paris again and be there. It’s a great place for me to be. I really enjoy my time there anyway. These are hard seven matches that you need to win, so I don’t take anything for granted.”

Swiatek is aiming to join Chris Evert, Steffi Graf and Henin in lifting the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen four times in the Open era.

The biggest obstacle standing in her way is Sabalenka.

The Belarusian missed three match points before losing to Swiatek in a thrilling Madrid final and will be hoping to get another crack at her rival after a one-sided loss in Rome.

Sabalenka, the two-time reigning Australian Open champion, has reached at least the semifinals in each of the past six Grand Slam events.

She is also the only woman to beat Swiatek in a final on clay — in Madrid last year — since the Pole lost her first WTA title decider as a teenager in 2019 at a low-key event in Switzerland.


Sabalenka will be ‘fighting’ 


Sabalenka has an 8-3 losing record against Swiatek, but insisted after Rome that she wanted to face her again in Paris.

“Even though I lost these two finals, I mean, I never focus on the past,” she said.

“No matter how many times I lose to the player, I know anyway if I’ll be there, if I’ll be fighting, I’ll be focusing on myself, I know that I can get that win.

“I mean, I’m going there with the confidence that I can do well there.”

Sabalenka had never even reached the second week at Roland Garros until last year, when she was knocked out by Karolina Muchova in the semis.

“I’m definitely not the favourite probably there,” she said.

“But at the same time I do feel that I can actually go for it.

“It’s 50/50, you know? But I prefer to be underdog. I really hope I’m going to make it to the final and I really hope I’ll be able to get that win, if it’s Iga or not.”

Elena Rybakina, the only player to defeat Swiatek on clay this year, was being touted as part of a new ‘big three’ 12 months ago.

But the Kazakh has failed to make the last four at a Slam since losing the 2023 Australian Open final to Sabalenka and has been passed in the rankings by US Open champion Coco Gauff.

American Gauff, playing in a major for the first time since turning 20, will be hoping to go one better than when she lost the 2022 French Open showpiece to Swiatek.

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