‘Step by step’ as Iga Swiatek bids to rival Rafael Nadal’s French Open dominance

‘Step by step’ as Iga Swiatek bids to rival Rafael Nadal’s French Open dominance

Comparisons with her idol Rafael Nadal may be distinctly premature but Iga Swiatek can take another step towards establishing her own dynasty at Roland Garros with a third title on Saturday.

The Pole has only suffered two defeats on the Parisian clay, winning her first title as an unseeded teenager in 2020 then reclaiming it last year.

Swiatek is yet to drop a set this year – although she was pushed hard in the semi-finals by Beatriz Haddad Maia – and will be a big favourite to beat Czech Karolina Muchova for what would be her fourth grand slam title overall.

“Rafa, what he did and what he’s still doing, it’s pretty amazing,” said the 22-year-old.

“So it was totally out of my reach. And still he played so well so many years. I don’t know if it’s going to be possible for me. But I just try to compete, keep it cool year by year and just do everything step by step.”

At 43rd in the world, Muchova is the fourth-lowest ranked woman to reach the final of the French Open, continuing a trend of unexpected slam contenders.

The Czech certainly has not come from nowhere though, having made at least the quarter-finals at every slam except the US Open, and would surely have been a consistent member of the top 20 but for injuries.

She produced a stunning victory over second seed Aryna Sabalenka in the semi-finals on Thursday, battling back from 5-2 down in the deciding set and saving a match point in a three-hour epic.

What stood out most was Muchova’s variety and intelligence as she fought Sabalenka’s pace with craft and guile.

Her final opponent is a fan, with Swiatek saying: “I really like her game. I really respect her, and she’s, I feel like, a player who can do anything. She has great touch. She can also speed up the game.

“She plays with that kind of freedom in her movements. And she has a great technique. So I watched her matches and I feel like I know her game pretty well.”

Karolina Muchova celebrates her win over Aryna Sabalenka
Karolina Muchova celebrates her win over Aryna Sabalenka (Christophe Ena/AP)

Muchova’s style is a throwback in a game now dominated by power, but the 26-year-old is happy to be different.

“I think I have it like that in everything in life, I don’t really want to be like anyone else,” she said.

“It’s the type of game I enjoy and I believe in. We are trying to improve it with the team. Now we can see as well that it works, so that’s nice. I’ll keep it this way.”

The strength of Czech women’s tennis is one of the enduring wonders of the game. Ten of the world’s top 100 hail from the country and they have a number of promising teenagers.

“I’ve been asked this every time I’m in the press conference,” said Muchova when asked for an explanation of her country’s success.

“I think I’m always trying to come up with a different answer to make it a little different. I think there is plenty of Czech players playing, good Czech players, and the younger generations, they look up to us and we practise with them.

“I think they can see it’s possible to be a top tennis player. We have as well great coaches.”

Muchova and Swiatek’s only previous meeting came back in 2019, when the Czech won a close battle.

Intriguingly, Muchova maintained her perfect record against players ranked in the top three by beating Sabalenka, extending it to 5-0.

“I don’t think I will be the favourite,” she said. “It’s nice. I didn’t really even know about this statistic.

“It just shows me that I can play against them. I can compete, and obviously the matches are super close. It’s great to know that I win against the top players, and that for sure boosts my confidence.”