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Can anyone stop Iga Swiatek from winning the French Open? | Tennis News

Both Novak Djokovic and Iga Swiatek come into the French Open as top seeds attempting to defend their crowns in Paris, yet their preparations could not be more contradictory.

While Djokovic’s year has seen him go into something of a slump, with a poor 14-6 win-loss record and no finals made, Swiatek has gone from strength to strength, peaking in time to dominate on her preferred surface of clay, where she won titles in Madrid and Rome, the two biggest tournaments on the red dirt prior to Roland Garros.

This may yet be the most open French Open men’s draw in recent memory with Djokovic’s form, the injury troubles of Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner, and the tentativeness on the big stage of the likes of Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas making it hard to pick a favourite.

But in the women’s draw, Swiatek leads, front and centre, setting the standard before a ball has even been hit. Her closest challenger, second seed and reigning Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, lost to her in both finals in Madrid and Rome, the latter being a demoralising 2-6, 3-6 rollover.

There is an argument to be made that with four Majors, a career win percentage of 81%, and spending over 100 weeks as the World No. 1 already puts her in rarefied air, but a fourth crown in Paris, for which she is the overwhelming favourite, will establish her place among the claycourt greats of the game.

The last player to win three consecutive Roland Garros titles was Justine Henin in 2007; and only four women — Henin (4), Chris Evert (7), and Steffi Graf (6) — have won four French Open crowns in the Open Era. Only Serena Williams has ever done the Madrid-Rome-Paris treble.

Festive offer

“I would lie if I would say I’m not nervous, because everybody is, I think,” Swiatek told reporters, per AFP, ahead of the French Open. “There is a lot of pressure, especially when you play well and you already know that you can achieve this step, people are expecting it to happen again and again and again.

“So there is pressure, but I wouldn’t say I’m more nervous than usual… I’m also pretty confident with how I’m playing right now and with the work we have been doing.”.

It is not just the wins she has piled up, but also the manner of victory she is used to inflicting on opponents that makes her even more of an imposing presence on the tour. In tennis, sets won 6-0 are nicknamed ‘bagels’ and those won 6-1 are nicknamed ‘breadsticks’. And ‘Iga’s bakery’ has been open for business. Since the start of 2022, she has bageled or breadsticked an opponent in 49% of her matches. That ruthless streak, on her best surface of clay, has allowed her to amass a 14-match winning streak in Paris.

Each of Swiatek’s tour-leading attributes are accentuated on clay. A pure ball striker, she has a monstrous, spin-heavy forehand she can use to dominate baseline exchanges which break away from the mould of flat-hitters that have usually done best on the women’s tour in the past. Her backhand has improved, incrementally, over the years to become a shot that cannot be targeted and her return of serve can be punishing.

Swiatek’s athleticism defines her game. Her lateral movement, the small side-to-side steps needed to adjust to big groundstrokes, is always on point and clay allows her to slide into position to use her strengths and dwarf the court for her opponents even more.

There is a potentially tricky route to the title, with the likes of Naomi Osaka and the surging Danielle Collins lurking on her side of a draw. There may also be a final faceoff against Sabalenka or World No. 4 Elena Rybakina, who has made Swiatek struggle in the past and is the last player to defeat her on clay.

But just as a certain Spaniard, now on his way out, has in the past, Swiatek has begun to look ominous on clay. Few look capable of stopping her as she chases a third straight French Open title, ahead of an Olympic medal quest at the same arena in a few months.

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