Giant-killing Muchova in Swiatek’s way
Reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek will attempt to become the first woman to successfully defend the title in Paris in 16 years on Saturday when she faces surprise finalist Karolina Muchova.
World number one Swiatek is bidding for a third Roland Garros crown in four years – whcih would see her oin an exclusive club of three-time winners including Serena Williams and Monica Seles – and fourth Grand Slam title following her 2022 US Open victory.
Justine Henin was the last woman to win back-to-back French Open titles when she captured her third in a row and fourth in total in 2007.
Swiatek, 22, has yet to drop a set in this tournament but will be wary of her Czech opponent who knocked out second seed Aryna Sabalenka in the semifinals after recovering from 2-5 and match point down in the final set.
Swiatek's last-four win over Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil coupled with Sabalenka's agonising defeat ensured the Pole will remain at number one heading into the grass-court part of the season.
She is the youngest woman since Monica Seles in the early 1990s to reach three French Open finals, while world number 43 Muchova is the fourth lowest ranked player to reach the showpiece match here.
It is still early in her career but Swiatek is starting to establish a dominance at Roland Garros best associated with Rafael Nadal, the record 14-time French Open champion.
"Rafa, what he did and what he's still doing, it's pretty amazing," said Swiatek. "I never kind of knew that it's gonna be possible for me.
With a 27-2 record at Roland Garros, Swiatek will be the overwhelming favourite, but Muchova has won all five matches in her career against players in the top three -- four of them at Grand Slams.
"It's nice. I didn't really even know about this statistic. It just shows me that I can play against them," said the 26-year-old.
She came from a set down to beat top-ranked Ashleigh Barty in the quarterfinals at the 2021 Australian Open, showing she has a knack of rising to the occasion in a career slowed by injuries.
It will be the fifth French Open in a row featuring a first-time Grand Slam finalist and just the second time Swiatek has played Muchova.
Their only previous meeting came in Prague in 2019 when Muchova won in three sets against Swiatek, who had come through qualifying to reach the main draw.
"I really like her game, honestly. I really respect her, and she's like a player who can do anything," said Swiatek.
"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."