French Open champion Iga Swiatek has her sights set on adding the Rome title to her clay court portfolio and she was unstoppable on Saturday, winning both her rain-delayed quarter-final match against Elina Svitolina and her semi-final with Coco Gauff to reach the final of the WTA 1000 event, where her opponent will be Karolina Pliskova, who squeezed out another gritty win against another strong clay-courter, Petra Martic.
It’s always hard to play against the young superstar, especially when I’m not used to that because I was always the youngest one. I just tried to have a high level of energy, even though it was my second match. I was feeling really good on the return—I know her biggest weapon is her serve, so I tried to use that. Also tactically I did everything really well. I felt like I was in control. Iga Świątek
“I’m still pretty young so hopefully I’m going to be ready,” Swiatek said. “I know it’s going to be a final, but I had a pretty fast first round.
“I feel like I’m okay with that. I was practicing really hard two weeks ago or three weeks ago, before Madrid. My practices had more intensity than these two matches.
“I know that my body is ready. If I’m going to take it well mentally, it’s going to be okay.”
Swiatek’s quarter-final match against two-times Italian champion Elina Svitolina was postponed due to rain on Friday, but the 19-year-old made short work of her more experienced opponent with a 6-2 7-5 win to set up a semi-final clash with Coco Gauff.
After narrowly escaping her third-round match on Thursday, when she fought off 2 match points to beat Barbora Krejcikova in 2 hours 50 minutes, Swiatek ended up not playing a match on Friday as rain wreaked havoc on the schedule, postponing several matches.
On Saturday morning she impressively defeated 5th-seeded Svitolina in straight-sets in just over an hour and a half, producing her best form of the week so far.
Swiatek was always in the lead against Svitolina, converting 5 of her 10 break points to oust the Ukrainian.
Svitolina, a back-to-back winner in Rome in 2017 and 2018, charged back from a break down in the second set but could not get over the line as her 13 winners were overwhelmed by 16 unforced errors.
The Pole’s big hitting took her to a 5-2 lead in the first set, and although she needed 3 set points in the next game before closing, Swiatek was never in peril as she notched the one-set lead in 36 minutes.
Svitolina at last got a break of serve early in the second, but from 1-2 down, Swiatek swept 3 games in a row to lead 4-2.
The impeccable foot-speed of Svitolina helped her level and, with more winning backhands, the Ukrainian pulled herself to 5-5 as the contest intensified.
Impressive forehands by Swiatek, however, helped her grit out a hold for 6-5, and the teenager would not be denied in the next game, drawing forehand errors from Svitolina to break for a final time and reach the last four.
By 4pm the 19-year-old Pole was back on court for her semi-final against Gauff, a battle between the 2 top teenagers in the WTA rankings, and she beat the 17-year-old American too, 7-6(3) 6-3.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” Swiatek said. “Before my match with Elina, I wasn’t really thinking about what’s going to happen after.
“I was kind of searching for my game still, even though it was a quarter-final. I just played with no expectations. She’s one of the best players in the world right now.
“I started worrying about the semi-final right after I finished, basically. Kind of mad that I couldn’t even celebrate one evening that I won. I told myself there’s nothing I can do about it.
“I tried to approach it in a positive way because I knew I was in a good rhythm and I’m playing really good tennis.”
Swiatek and Gauff were playing against each other for the first time.
“It’s always hard to play against the young superstar, especially when I’m not used to that because I was always the youngest one,” the Pole said. “I just tried to have a high level of energy, even though it was my second match.
“I was feeling really good on the return—I know her biggest weapon is her serve, so I tried to use that. Also tactically I did everything really well. I felt like I was in control.”
Gauff hit a number of creative, quick-thinking shots in the first couple of games, but the American was undone by a double-fault on break point at 1-1 as Swiatek took an early lead.
The Pole then fended off 2 break points herself at 4-2, but was unable to repeat the feat 2 games later when Gauff broke for 4-4.
Winners careened off of the rackets of both for the rest of the opener, with neither player facing any more break points en route to a decisive first-set tiebreak.
Gauff slammed a winning overhead on the first point, but Swiatek used her weighty groundstrokes to draw forehand errors from the American and claim 6 points in a row.
Staring down 5 set points, a forehand winner and a strong serve allowed Gauff to erase 2 of Swiatek’s chances, but the Pole toughed out a rally at 6-3 that ended with a wide American backhand to give the No 15 seed the one-set lead after an hour of play.
After sweeping to 3-1 in the second, Swiatek needed to grit her way through a tough service game, where Gauff held 2 break points before the Pole served her way out of danger.
Another break gave Swiatek a 5-1 lead, but she double-faulted that game away as Gauff stayed in contention, but at 5-3, she moved to triple match point.
While Gauff got out of the first two, the third proved the winner as another penetrating backhand by Swiatek forced an error from the young American, and the Roland Garros champion was into another final in her surging career.
“I tried to play smart,” Swiatek added. “I did that pretty well today so I’m happy about that.”
Gauff fired 7 aces but also served 5 double-faults and she struggled on her second serve as Swiatek converted 3 of 4 break points to advance into the final against Pliskova.
Swiatek, who is already sitting at a career-high of No 15 right now, will improve on her ranking no matter how she does in the final, rising to No 12 with a loss and to No 10 with a win.
Pliskova also will rise, from No 9 to No 8, regardless of what happens, bumping Serena Williams to No 9.
Once again, Karolina Pliskova is relishing her time in Rome with another deep run into the 1000-level event’s final for the third straight season, as the 2019 champion and 2020 finalist overcame Petra Martic, 6-1 3-6 6-2,
“I think the first and third set, they were super solid for me, playing the game I want to play, not really going for crazy shots, but super solid,” Pliskova told the press. “Quite good serve today. I think it was a good match.”
Pliskova took an hour and 54-minutes to improve her career win-loss record in Rome to 14-5, as the former World No 1 moves into her first WTA singles final since reaching the final of this very event in October of last year.
“I hope I will feel better, and maybe more relaxed a bit, to go to the other tournaments in the next couple weeks, months, with this kind of result,” Pliskova said.
“With having the matches I had this week, overcoming some situations which I had this week, and beating some players: Martic, for example, I never beat on clay. For sure this gives me some strength.”
The 9th seed wrapped up the match with 37 winners to 31 unforced errors, while Martic’s season-best run came to an end after her 20 winners were outpaced by 34 unforced errors.
The Czech broke Martic in the very first game of the match, and it was smooth sailing for Pliskova from there, as she fired 13 winners to just 5 unforced errors, and never faced a break point.
Martic turned things around in the second set after earning her first 3 break points of the day in a ten-minute game at 2-2, and although Pliskova served her way out of that jam, the Croat broke through in the Czech’s next service game to claim a break and lead 4-3.
Cracking forehands propelled Martic through the rest of the set, bolstered by a rising unforced error count from Pliskova, and she reeled off the last 4 games while never facing a break point in levelling.
Pliskova took the early lead in the decider, using powerful returns to break Martic in a lengthy opening game, but the unseeded Croat got herself back on serve, breaking to love to level the set at 2-2 and keep the Czech in touching distance.
That proved to be Martic’s last stand as Pliskova took control from there on in, with a patch of forehand errors causing Martic to yield another break and a 3-2 lead to Pliskova, and the Czech took a second break for good measure with a fierce forehand, moving ahead 5-2.
In the next game, Pliskova foot-faulted away her first match point, but the serve was solid on the second, and the Czech was back in the Rome final.
Last year she also reached the final and, in 2019, she took home the title, dismissing Johanna Konta in the final.
She is looking forward to another challenge in playing Swiatek for the first time, and will be enjoying the success of playing in her third-career Rome final round.
“It’s already a great success and I just want to enjoy it a bit,” Pliskova said.
“I think she’s, like, super tough on clay. I think she was also struggling a bit this week, and when you get some wins when you are match point down or something, it gives you extra strength.
“Happen to me, happen to her. We both have that match in this week.
“She’s the champion of Roland Garros last year. It’s not going to be easy.”
This week started off with a stacked field, with the World No 1 Ash Barty and Madrid winner Aryna Sabalenka alongside Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep, Svitolina and Serena Williams all coming to Rome with strong aspirations.
Sunday’s final, however, shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, though, as Swiatek is as savvy as they come on red clay, and there is something about the courts of the Foro Italico that Pliskova thrives on.
“I’m not thinking about it really,” Swiatek said, when asked what winning the Rome title would mean to her. “I want to take it step by step, as on every tournament that I was playing well.
“Maybe after tomorrow we can reflect on that.”