WTA

Swiatek and Sabalenka to renew their rivalry at Roland-Garros?

By Sports Desk May 25, 2024

Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka are at the very pinnacle of the women's game, and over the past month, have been battling it out for glory on the clay courts of Madrid and Rome.

The duo have met twice in the finals of the past two WTA 1000 events, with Swiatek coming out on top on both occasions.

Swiatek needed a third-set tie-breaker to win an epic Madrid Open final, though she got the job done in straight sets at the Italian Open, as the Pole made it eight wins to three from her 11 career contests with Sabalenka.

Since 1990, only Steffi Graf and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario have faced each other more often in WTA level clay finals (10 times) than Swiatek and Sabalenka (five), and if the top two seeds get their way at Roland-Garros, they will be vying it out for the 2024 French Open title in two weeks' time.

Sensational Swiatek hunts a treble

Swiatek, who does not turn 23 until Friday, already has three French Open titles under her belt, having won in 2020, 2022 and 2023.

The Pole is aiming to become the third player in the Open Era to win the women's singles title at Roland-Garros for three consecutive years, after Monica Seles (1990-92) and Justine Henin (2005-07).

She is one of six players in the Open Era to have won the title without dropping a set, a feat she managed at the 2020 edition. The other players on that list are: Evonne Goolagong (1971), Billie Jean King (1972), Chris Evert (1974), Steffi Graf (1988), and Henin (2006-07).

Margaret Court holds the best winning percentage in the women's singles at Roland-Garros in the Open Era, at 95.2 per cent. Among active players, with a minimum of 10 matches played, Swiatek (93.3 per cent) holds the highest winning percentage at the event.

Swiatek was 19 when she won her first French Open crown, joining Jelena Ostapenko (2017) as the only teenagers to triumph at Roland-Garros since the turn of the century.

Last year, Swiatek claimed a third women’s singles title at Roland-Garros from five appearances in the main draw at the event. In the Open Era, only Court (three out of four, 75 per cent) holds a better title win rate from main draws entered at the tournament.

Since the WTA-1000 format’s introduction in 2009, Swiatek could become only the second player to claim victory at the Madrid Open, Italian Open and Roland-Garros in a calendar year after Serena Williams (2013).

The world number one will start her campaign against Leolia Jeanjean, and has already scooped four titles this year, taking her overall tally to 21.

The omens are not great for Jeanjean. In the Open Era, the top seed in the women’s singles at Roland-Garros has lost in the opening round only once, with Angelique Kerber falling to Ekaterina Makarova in 2017.

"I feel like I keep having a target on my back, because I'm No. 1," Swiatek said on Friday.

"So, I think actually I'm more proud of what's happening right now, and winning all these titles this year already has shown that we are going on the right path."

Third time lucky for Sabalenka?

In the event that Swiatek and second seed Sabalenka meet in the final, it will be the fifth clay-court meeting between the pair as the WTA’s number one and number two, surpassing Martina Navratilova and Evert for the most meetings on the surface in the past 40 years as the WTA’s top two-ranked players. 

Given her recent misfortune against Swiatek, mind, Sabalenka will no doubt be hoping the reigning champion falters this time around, leaving her with a clearer run to glory.

The Belarusian could become the first player to claim the women’s singles titles at the Australian Open and Roland-Garros in a calendar year since Williams in 2015.

Sabalenka, who is the player with the most winners on clay in 2024 (447), has already reached four finals this season, only to come up short in three of them. Erika Andreeva is her first-round opponent.

The other challengers

It is not just Swiatek and Sabalenka that will be gunning for glory in Paris over the next fortnight.

Coco Gauff is looking to become the youngest American woman to win the singles title at the French Open since Evert in 1975, while only Swiatek (36) has won more WTA main draw matches than Elena Rybakina in 2024 (30).

World number three Gauff, who lost to Swiatek in the French Open final two years ago, could become the fourth player since 2000 to make multiple finals at Roland-Garros before turning 21, along with Kim Clijsters, Ana Ivanovic and Swiatek.

Meanwhile, either Rybakina or Marketa Vondrousova could become the fifth player since 2000 to win both Wimbledon and Roland-Garros, along with Ashleigh Barty, Garbine Muguruza, Maria Sharapova and Williams. That's not bad company to be keeping.

Having reached three grand slam finals across 2022 and 2023, Ons Jabeur has endured a frustrating season so far, dropping to world number nine just ahead of 2017 champion Ostapenko, heading into what promises to be an enthralling battle.

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