Who will hold the edge on Saturday in the US Open women’s singles final, when Iga Swiatek and Ons Jabeur meet, having split their previous 4 matches, including both on hard courts, in their first visit to the Last 2 in New York?
There are a lot of challenges because she’s a really solid player. She has different game style than most of the players. She has a great touch. All these things mixed up, yeah, she’s just a tough opponent. That’s why, probably, our matches are, yeah, always kind of physical, and really tight. Iga Świątek
Swiatek is the first Polish woman ever to reach the final, while Jabeur is the first African woman to reach the title match at Flushing Meadows in the Open Era.
These are the two premier women’s players of 2022, with World No 1 Swiatek already owning two major titles, both won at Roland Garros where she is the reigning champion, and Jabeur, ranked 5, who made the Wimbledon final in July.
At 21 years old, Swiatek is bidding to become the youngest 3-time Grand Slam champion since Maria Sharapova won the 2008 Australian Open at the age of 20.
The Pole could become only the 9th player in the Open Era to win her 3rd major title before turning 22 following in the path of Sharapova, Justine Henin, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Martina Hingis, Monica Seles, Stefanie Graf and Chris Evert.
Swiatek is also looking to become the first World No 1 to win the US Open since Serena Williams in 2014.
A victory would also net her a 7th title this season, becoming the first player since Williams, in 2014, to win at least that many, while she could also become the first woman to win two majors in a season since Angelique Kerber in 2016.
A win for Swiatek would be her 57th victory of the season, tying her with Ash Barty’s 57 wins in 2019.
Jabeur is also bidding to become the first Tunisian, Arab or African woman to win a Grand Slam title, the last African player to win a major title having been South Africa’s Johan Kriek in 1981.
Swiatek comes into the final on the heels of a bruising semi-final win over Aryna Sabalenka in which she rallied from a set down and 2-4 down in the 3rd set.
While this could have had a negative impact on her legs, her key asset as the best defender in women’s tennis, her confidence is high as she pursues her first Grand Slam title away from the red clay of Roland Garros.
She has already captured 6 titles, almost all at WTA 1000 level, and posted an incredible 50-7 record on the year that includes a 37-match winning streak, the longest of any woman this century.
Since winning Roland Garros in June, though, Swiatek had made just one quarter-final and has had to battle here in New York, losing 2 sets and repeatedly forced to come back from deficits, but she has dug in her heels and battled to find her form.
“Earlier I felt like my emotions were taking over and I was panicking a little bit when I was losing,” Swiatek said. “For sure I grew up, I learned a lot.
“And the work we’ve put with Daria [Abramowicz, her sports psychologist] for sure helped.
“Right now it’s just easier for me to actually, logically, think about what I can change. And I feel like I have more skills to do that [rather] than one type of way to play.”
Winning match No 51 on Saturday could prove the sweetest yet, but expect a stiff challenge from the crafty Jabeur.
The Tunisian should be the fresher of the two coming into the final, and although she had a subpar 2-3 run since Wimbledon, she has lost just one set on her way in New York, scoring an easy win over a nervy Caroline Garcia from France on Thursday night.
“Feels more real, to be honest with you, just to be in the finals again,” Jabeur said. “At Wimbledon I was kind of just living the dream, and I couldn’t believe it.
“Even just after the match, I was just going to do my things and not realising it was an amazing achievement already.
“But now just I hope I’m getting used to it. Just happy the fact that I backed up the results in Wimbledon and people are not really surprised I’m in the finals.”
The 28-year old has been dubbed Tunisia’s ‘Minister of Happiness’, and is steadily writing herself into the history books.
A crowd favourite for her creative playing style, she rolls into her second straight Grand Slam championship match brimming with confidence, with lessons learned from her heartbreaking loss at the All England Club to Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina.
“I just feel like now I can do whatever I can do, and what I want to do on the court, which is surprising for me and I surprise myself so many times,” said Jabeur, who flattened Garcia 6-1 6-3 in the semi-final. “It’s going very well, especially this tournament.”
Swiatek has quickly picked up the torch from shock retiree Barty earlier this year when the Australian called time on her career at 25, and the clay specialist is now showing she can be equally lethal on hard courts, with wins at Indian Wells and Miami.
“Even though I lost in Toronto and Cincinnati pretty early, you’re going to, kind of, have your chances and you have to be ready,” she told reporters, after recovering from a set down to beat Belarusian Sabalenka in the semi-final, 3-6 6-1 6-4.
“I’m pretty happy that on this tournament I just was, kind of, fresh, actual mentally, to actually use the chances.”
Swiatek and Jabeur have something of a burgeoning rivalry, with their career head-to-head tied up at two apiece, the Pole most recently triumphing in the Rome final on clay, while the Tunisian got the upper hand in their last hard court meeting in Cincinnati last year.
“There are a lot of challenges because she’s a really solid player,” said Swiatek. “She has different game style than most of the players. She has a great touch.
“All these things mixed up, yeah, she’s just a tough opponent. That’s why, probably, our matches are, yeah, always kind of physical, and really tight.”
Jabeur says she is all too aware of the challenge that awaits in Arthur Ashe Stadium: “Iga never loses finals.”
It will be a stark contrast of styles as both play in their second Grand Slam finals of the season.
By making the final, they have each earned 1,300 points and $1.3 million dollars, and Jabeur will return to her career-high No 2 ranking after the US Open, with or without the trophy.
The champion on Saturday will leave the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center with 2,000 points and a cheque for $2.6 million.
Viewers in the UK can tune in to the final at 9pm on Amazon Prime.