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'Queen of clay' Swiatek v late bloomer Paolini - Paris final preview

Iga Swiatek of Poland and Jasmine Paolini of Italy
Iga Swiatek is playing in her fifth Grand Slam final, while Jasmine Paolini is competing in her first [Getty Images]

"I think it's too early."

That was the response Iga Swiatek gave almost a fortnight ago when asked if she feels like the 'Queen of Clay'.

Although it is a play on the nickname given to Rafael Nadal, Swiatek is already following in the footsteps of the 14-time French Open men's champion.

A win against Jasmine Paolini in the final on Saturday will take the Pole to four titles at Roland Garros - the same number Nadal held at the same age of 23.

"We'll see in 14 years if the journey is similar," Swiatek said.

"I'd never expect anybody to compare me to Rafa because for me he's above everybody, and he's a total legend."

The four-time major winner is the overwhelming favourite against late bloomer Paolini, who is making her Grand Slam final debut.

The 28-year-old Italian had never made it past the second round of a major until January, when she reached the fourth round of the Australian Open.

Now she finds herself one win away from Grand Slam glory and a £2m prize pot.

"I was watching the other Italians make it in the finals and winning Grand Slams, but [to] imagine that can be myself was tough," said Paolini.

"I never dreamed so big. Never."

The final takes place from 14:00 BST in Paris, with live commentary available on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra and the BBC Sport website and app.

'So young but so many achievements'

Iga Swiatek of Poland celebrates
Swiatek has won three French Open titles as well as the 2022 US Open [Getty Images]

Swiatek has enjoyed a stellar season on the red dirt, winning big WTA titles in Madrid and Rome.

A 20th straight win on the surface on Saturday would see her become the first player since Serena Williams in 2013 to win the 'Triple Crown' - the biggest three clay-court titles in a single season.

"After the tournament it usually hits me what I achieved, but during it, I feel like I just need to play another match," said Swiatek.

The 23-year-old will join further elite company if she defends her title, becoming just the third woman in the Open era to win three Roland Garros titles in a row after Justine Henin and Monica Seles.

Since saving a match point against Naomi Osaka in the second round, Swiatek has sailed through the tournament, dropping just 10 games in her next four matches.

Speaking about her opponent, Paolini said: "Iga is an unbelievable player. So young, but so many achievements and Grand Slams.

"She's doing well week by week and that's not easy. So I have huge respect for her but my goal is to step onto the court on Saturday and try to enjoy the match, enjoy that moment and try to play a good match."

How tough will it be for Paolini?

The numbers, as well as experience, are all in Swiatek's favour.

  • Swiatek has won her last 20 matches at Roland Garros

  • She has won all four of her previous Grand Slam finals

  • Swiatek has a 34-2 win record at the French Open, having not lost a match there since 2021

  • Since saving a match point against Naomi Osaka in the second round, Swiatek has won 52 of 66 games in four matches

  • She also leads the head-to-head between the pair 2-0

Paolini looks to build on impressive season

Jasmine Paolini of Italy
Paolini will move to fifth in the world rankings if she wins the title [Getty Images]

It has been a remarkable French Open run for Tuscany-born Paolini, who made her WTA Tour debut in 2015.

Before January, she had won a total of four matches in 16 Grand Slam appearances.

The world number 15 has won two career singles titles but is enjoying her most productive year in 2024, announcing herself at Roland Garros by stunning former Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the quarter-finals and winning over the Paris crowds.

With compatriot Jannik Sinner also reaching the men's semi-finals at the French Open, Paolini's run meant Italians were in the last four of a major singles tournament for the first time in the Open era.

Paolinia has also reached the final of the women's doubles alongside compatriot and 2012 French Open singles finalist Sara Errani. The pair will take on American Coco Gauff and Czech Katerina Siniakova on Sunday.

But regardless of what happens on Saturday, the 12th seed will appear in the top 10 of the WTA rankings for the first time when they are released on Monday, moving up to fifth if she beats Swiatek or seventh if she does not.

As Swiatek goes for her third successive French Open title, Paolini will try to emulate compatriot Francesca Schiavone - the only Italian woman to win the French Open (2010).

"We played a long time ago, so I need to prepare tactically and see what her game is at now," Swiatek added.

"She has the best season, so she must have changed something.