In the first two months of 2022, Iga Swiatek and Daria Kasatkina faced each other three times on three different continents and each time the result was the same. Swiatek conceded 11 games, each win more comprehensive than the last.
As they squared off again on Thursday with a French Open final on the line, the true challenge for Swiatek given her dominance was handling the growing weight of the moment.
As she has done throughout her first grand slam tournament as the world No 1 and the main attraction, she handled herself spectacularly and rose to the occasion with one of her best performances of the fortnight. Swiatek returned to the final for the second time in three years, dominating Kasatkina 6-2, 6-1.
The almighty winning streak stands at 34 victories in a row and after passing Justine Henin, she is now level with Serena Williams’s best run. As the streak enters its fifth month, Swiatek has losttwo sets since mid-March and one in Paris, where she has conceded 29 games in six matches. She will face either Coco Gauff or Marttina Trevisan in the final.
At a time when modern tennis is often criticised too one-dimensional, the delicate touches of Kasatkina’s game have always been a joy. She has a deep toolbox of slices, spins, angles and chances of pace as well as a forehand of deceptive weight when she fully trusts it.
A quarter-finalist here in 2018 and a top 10 player later that year, Kasatkina speaks with refreshing bluntness about the mental struggles that led to her crashing down the rankings to as slow as 75th and the maturity it has taken to rise again. “I’m trying to be more focused on what I’m doing, what is important,” she said this week.
She imposed herself well in the opening exchanges as she continually kept Swiatek guessing by alternating between giving her no pace, mixing in loopy balls and then abruptly changing directions or injecting pace. She stood level after four games.
But even then, all that Kasatkina offers pales in comparison with the sheer weight of shot of Swiatek and her determination to dominate. From 2-2, Swiatek absolutely ravaged Kasatkina with her forehand, creating angles off both sides and evaporating all short balls. She took the decisive break for 4-2 with one such wicked cross-court angled forehand, which set up an easy forehand down-the-line winner and she breezed through the set.
Throughout the tournament, Kasatkina has conceded so few unforced errors, reaching the semi-final without dropping the set. But between the danger Swiatek’s weapons present on any ball that isn’t perfectly deep and the sheer difficulty of hitting through her defences, she could not keep up and her forehand leaked errors under the pressure.
Swiatek laid waste to Kasatkina’s second serve, she hunted forehands and attacked from within the baseline, winning 10 of the last 11 games.
Even with the gap between herself and the field, this has been an immense effort from Swiatek and the winning streak could have been a burden rather than an asset. She has used it to reinforce her dominance and, no matter who she faces, she will embrace her role as the overwhelming favourite in the final.